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Off the shelf

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The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced Tuesday that the Atlantic Coast will not be included in its next five-year offshore drilling plan for oil and gas leases.

Apparently responding to stiff opposition, the Obama administration withdrew a plan that would have allowed for oil and gas leasing in waters off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Environmental groups and localities up and down the East Coast had opposed the drilling, although others favored the plan as a way to create new jobs and make America less dependent on foreign oil.

In announcing its decision, BOEM said the proposed program released today for 2017-2022 evaluates 13 potential lease sales in six planning areas. Ten of those sales are in the Gulf of Mexico and the other three potential sales are located in areas off the coast of Alaska. The program does not schedule lease sales in the Mid- and South Atlantic Program Area “due to current market dynamics, strong local opposition and conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses.”

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell elaborated futher in a statement on the removal of the Mid- and South Atlantic area.  "When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism and opposition from many local communities, it simply does not make sense to move foward with any lease sales in the coming five years."

Jewell described the new plan as “a balanced proposal that protects sensitive resources and supports safe and responsible development of the nation’s domestic energy resources to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The proposal focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest and established infrastructure.”

Gov. Terry McAuliffe commented on the BOEM’s decision, saying, “Today’s announcement is an opportunity to work with the Department of Defense to address the concerns they have raised, and to ensure that any offshore energy exploration is coupled with a revenue sharing agreement that benefits our commonwealth. This announcement should also serve as motivation to expand and diversify Virginia’s energy economy in every sector, with a particular focus on renewables.”

The decision was greeted as good news to environmental groups, which had opposed plans to push offshore drilling off the coast of Virginia. “It’s not just environmentalists who have been speaking out. Hundreds of towns up and down the East coast passed resolutions in opposition to offshore drilling and in Virginia state business interests like Virginia Restaurant, Lodging, and Travel Association, the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association, the Southeastern Fisheries Association, the Virginia Beach Hotel Association, Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, the Virginia Beach Resort Advisory Commission have all expressed their opposition to offshore drilling,” the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club noted in a statement.

“Today is a historic day for Virginia, for our country, and our planet,” Jay Ford, executive director of VA Eastern Shorekeeper, said in a statement. “ … We want to thank the Virginia localities, trade associations, and thousands upon thousands of citizens who made their concerns known to the administration. We would like to especially thank Virginia’s lieutenant governor, and other elected officials who contacted the administration to advocate for our coastal communities. Virginia’s Eastern Shore is the longest stretch of coastal wilderness remaining on the entire Eastern Seaboard -- an unparalleled treasure that will now be protected from the impacts of offshore drilling threatening our waters, our shores, our economy, and our way of life.”

“This is an incredible day for the Southeast,” Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), said in that group’s response to the decision.  “Communities along the Atlantic have been strongly unified against this plan, and we are grateful the president listened.”

The SELC noted that more than 100 coastal communities including cities like Wilmington, N.C.; Myrtle Beach and Charleston, S.C.; and Savannah, Ga., were joined by businesses, trade groups, and tourism associations to formally adopt resolutions against offshore drilling.

The BOEM’s new draft five-year plan will be open for public comment for the next 90 days.




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