WASHINGTON — The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia are pushing President Barack Obama’s choice for interior secretary to abandon federal opposition to drilling off the Atlantic Coast, where production has been blocked for decades.
“During your nomination hearings, we will be listening intently to your answers regarding energy exploration off the coasts of our states and hope you will signal your willingness to revise the administration’s current policy to one that is committed to safely harnessing our coast’s vast natural resources,” the three Republican governors wrote in a letter Thursday to nominee Sally Jewell.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for an interview with Jewell, a conservation advocate whom Obama chose to replace Ken Salazar. She’ll soon undergo her confirmation hearings by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
It’s questionable how much the Atlantic drilling issue will factor into her confirmation. Republicans on the committee, including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, favor drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. But most of them are from Western states, and they’re more likely to grill Jewell on public land issues closer to their constituents. There’s also the fact that Democrats control the Senate and the committee’s chairman, Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon, has no problem with Obama’s reluctance to drill in the Atlantic.
“The current leasing plan already includes new areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean, which have been of great interest to the oil industry. So Chairman Wyden isn’t inclined to start second-guessing the Interior Department’s plan at this point,” Wyden spokesman Keith Chu said.
Obama had planned to allow drilling off the East Coast, starting in Virginia, but that changed after the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department’s plan now excludes any petroleum leasing in Atlantic waters through at least 2017.