Environmentalists Call Obama's Offshore Plans 'Steps Backwards'


WASHINGTON (April 1, 2010)—Maryland environmental groups were outraged over President Obama's announcement Wednesday lifting the 20-year ban on offshore drilling, saying the move could have disastrous effects on the Chesapeake Bay.

"At a time when we need to tackle both our dependence on oil and the threat of global warming pollution, this proposal takes us backward," Tommy Landers, policy advocate for Environment Maryland, said in a statement.

Members of the Maryland congressional delegation were not pleased either.

"Spilled oil does not see borders," said Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., in a tweet. "Entire region must have a say before starting any activity that puts our livelihood in jeopardy."

Obama's plan would open up drilling on the Atlantic Coast from Delaware to Florida as well as areas in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama said the announcement "is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy."

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was with Obama at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington in Prince George's County.

"By responsibly expanding conventional energy development and exploration here at home we can strengthen our energy security, create jobs, and help rebuild our economy," Salazar said in a statement. "Our strategy calls for developing new areas offshore, exploring frontier areas, and protecting places that are too special to drill."

Salazar also said that the plans will protect areas like Alaska's Bristol Bay, but he did not mention the Chesapeake Bay.

Obama's announcement is coming at a time when the federal government is supposed to be taking a more active role in protecting the Bay—he issued an Executive Order last May directing the Environmental Protection Agency to coordinate Bay cleanup efforts.

Cardin tweeted his concern shortly after Obama's speech. His Twitter page said that he applauded Obama for "putting forward a comprehensive energy plan," but objects to expanding East Coast off-shore drilling.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is also concerned. "We must do what we can to help Americans deal with rising energy costs without opening up our Atlantic coastline to drilling," she said in a statement released a few hours after Obama's speech.

Last week, Cardin and Mikulski, along with eight other coastal state Democratic senators, wrote a letter to Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who are all working toward new climate and energy legislation, stating they wouldn't support any legislation that expanded offshore drilling.

One of the biggest concerns from Mikulski, Cardin and environmental groups is the possibility of oil spills.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said in a statement that the potential harm in drilling is too big a risk for the bay and that because a big portion of the state depends on the bay; an oil spill would have a significant impact.

Other concerns include an increase in pollution, a possible decrease in the state's tourism as well as the disruption it could pose on bay wildlife.

Environment Maryland was surprised by the announcement because it was expecting to see a move towards cleaner cars, not this.

"It's bizarre. It's like they're being schizophrenic," said Landers. "We need cleaner fuels...but instead today we see this outrageous announcement about opening up more of our precious land to off-shore drilling...and it's appalling."

Maryland League of Conservation Voters had a similar reaction and was concerned that this is "dirty energy over clean energy," said Jen Brock-Cancellieri, deputy director with the league.

"We just think it's insulting that if you're going to take a step backwards in creating a clean energy economy it should be done across the whole country, why just single one region out over another?"

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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