Many Democrats are offering President Obama tepid support at best over the future of offshore oil drilling after the ongoing environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.
Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a usually staunch Obama ally, is noncommittal over the future of at-sea oil extraction in the face of a massive oil slick caused by the explosion of a BP oil rig.
The oil spill, which threatened to come ashore Friday, further angered Democrats who just a month ago expressed their displeasure at Obama’s decision to open new offshore areas to oil and natural gas drilling.
Obama announced Friday that policy was on hold pending an investigation into the BP accident, but that wasn’t enough for some Democrats who say a temporary hold isn’t good enough, including several New Jersey lawmakers.
“I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security, but I’ve always said it must be done responsibly, for the safety of our workers and our environment,” the president says. “The local economies and livelihoods of the people of the Gulf Coast as well as the ecology of the region are at stake.”
Obama repeated Friday that he had sent a number high-level Cabinet officials to the scene of the spill, while the Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was dispatching a team of federal lawyers to the Gulf to meet with the U.S. Attorney and response teams and to monitor the oil spill.
“The British Petroleum oil spill has already cost lives and created a major environmental incident,” Holder says. “The Justice Department stands ready to make available every resource at our disposal to vigorously enforce the laws that protect the people who work and reside near the Gulf, the wildlife, the environment and the American taxpayers.”
But key Garden State Democrats called on Obama to reverse his plan eventually to open up the East Coast of the United States to oil drilling. Under the administration’s plan, drilling along the coast of Virginia could occur within 100 miles of the Jersey Shore and, eventually, drilling along the coast of Delaware could occur within 10 miles of New Jersey, the New Jersey senators and congressman note.
“In the wake of the tragic accident, loss of life, and pollution in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, we are even more steadfastly opposed to any offshore drilling that could imperil the environment or economy of coastal New Jersey,” the lawmakers write in a letter to the president. “While we appreciate the White House’s announcement that no additional offshore drilling will be authorized until a full investigation of the accident is complete, we urge you to go further and reverse your decision on proposed new offshore oil and gas drilling for the outer continental shelf.”
The top Senate Democrat, Reid released a statement Friday expressing condolences on the loss of life from the rig explosion, adding that he is “alarmed by the environmental impact of this incident and its potential to get even worse in the coming days.”
While commending the president for his administration’s immediate response to the spill, Reid offered no such support for Obama’s long-term oil-drillingpolicies.
“This terrible event will, undoubtedly, require us to re-examine how we extract our nation’s offshore energy resources and will have to be taken into consideration with any legislation that proposes to open new areas to development,” the Nevada Democrat says. “I am pleased that the Obama administration has swiftly deployed significant federal resources to help minimize and contain this incident. We will continue to follow the developments in the Gulf of Mexico closely.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.