Challenging politicians in Washington and the American people to "move beyond the tired debates of the left and right, the business leaders and the environmentalists," President Obama announced this morning that his administration is proposing to make more than 167 million acres of OCS lands off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and in the Arctic available for oil and natural gas leases. This proposal begins the process for oil and natural gas E&P leases on the East Coast, from Delaware to the central coast of Florida, a feat which Republicans were unable to accomplish during the 8 years of the Bush Administration. Offshore areas from New Jersey to Maine would remain off-limits. According to the New York Times, the Administration hopes the offshore leasing plan will reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale and production of offshore leases, and boost support in Congress for comprehensive energy and climate legislation. As the President noted in his remarks today, "This 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 on homegrown fuels and clean energy. ... Failure to recognize this reality would be a mistake."

In response to this morning's announcement, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), noting the environmental risks associated with offshore E&P activities, told CNN that "there are areas that are acceptable for drilling, but I think this is too high of a risk for Maryland." Senator Cardin was one of the senators who signed a letter to Senate colleagues expressing concern over the effects of increased offshore energy activities on coastal tourism and fishing economies.

Reacting to the President's announcement, Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) called the Obama Administration's plan, "a good start to secure reliable and increased access to areas of the OCS where vital energy resources may lie." Luthi went on to note that NOIA is "delighted that the Administration agrees with the State leadership in Virginia that the lease sale off that coast should go forward under the current plan."