The Obama administration has for the first time opened up parts of the Atlantic coast to drilling while at the same time designating an additional nearly 10 million acres in energy-rich Alaska as off-limits to any future oil and gas leasing.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, in a statement, called it "a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop."
The 2017-2022 draft plan would open 14 potential lease sales — 10 in the Gulf of Mexico, three off the coast of Alaska, and one in a portion of the Mid- and South Atlantic, areas covering waters 50 miles off the coast of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
The process is the first step in a plan that could take years before drilling in those waters is approved. Jewell noted the administration was merely "considering" a lease sale in the Atlantic and that areas could be "narrowed or taken out entirely in the future."
In a statement, Sens. Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J. said opening up the Atlantic "poses a serious threat to coastal communities throughout the region, and is the wrong approach to energy development in this country."
Environmental groups also criticized the administration's announcement.
"Opening these areas to dirty fuel development is incompatible with a healthy future for America's coastlines, coastal communities, or our climate," the Sierra Club said in a statement.
And Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, criticized the plan for closing off to future drilling 9.8 million acres in the waters of the Beaufort and Chuchki seas. She said the administration was "determined to shut down oil and gas production in Alaska's federal areas."
Tuesday's announcement comes just days after the president expanded the federal protection of Alaska's Arctic wildlife refuge — which Murkowski also criticized. The Interior Department did propose lease sales Tuesday in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas and in the Cook Inlet.
The Interior Department's announcement was lauded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which called it a "step in the right direction."