Obama Administration Facing More Opposition to Atlantic Drilling Plans

More than 75 towns and 300 coastal businesses opposed plan to allow drilling in the Atlantic.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is facing increased pressure to change his position on drilling in the Atlantic Ocean -- and not just from environmental groups.

Yes, environmental groups are against the move to expand offshore drilling. On Monday, a major coalition of environmental groups sent Obama a letter urging him to end all new leases for fossil fuels, including for offshore oil in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Arctic, as well as coal and natural gas development on public lands. The "Keep it in the Ground" effort says ending new leases would help prevent 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere.

But the pushback on offshore drilling in the Atlantic is even broader, including a number of cities and towns along the southeast coast.

The Obama administration announced in January that it will open new areas of the Atlantic to offshore lease sales under the 2017-2022 plan. That includes areas off the coast of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. That was just the first step in the process; the administration took public comment on the draft plan through March, and must still conduct an environmental impact analysis and release a final plan before the actual lease sale would be held. The Atlantic was left available for offshore drilling in 2008, when President George W. Bush lifted a presidential ban on Outer Continental Shelf development and Congress allowed its longstanding moratorium to expire.

With the lease sale planning process still underway, there's a growing volume of dissent from coastal voices.

Charleston, South Carolina's city council passed a resolution opposing drilling in March. Savannah, Georgia's council unanimously approved a similar resolution in April. The Wilmington, North Carolina council followed suit in July. And the Myrtle Beach city council approved an anti-drilling resolution in August, as did two North Carolina beach communities in early September. At least 75 coastal communities have taken action in opposition to drilling, according to a tally from the environmental group Oceana.

"After some soul searching, I’m not going to be a part of it," said Myrtle Beach Councilman Mike Lowder, the Sun News reported. "I'm not going to support anything that's going to have the potential to destroy our beach."

The governors of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia have all endorsed drilling. But Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, notes that opposition is growing and, in many of these areas, has been bipartisan. "It's been a slow process of the communities waking up and saying, 'This isn't our vision for the coast,'" said Weaver.

There's growing pushback from businesses, too. A group of 300 Atlantic coastal businesses organized by the group Environment America sent the administration a letter last week citing concerns about the potential for oil spills and the harm drilling could do to other economic activity. The list included a variety of tourism, fishing and restaurant businesses.

"Offshore drilling is incompatible with our tourism and fishing industries," they wrote. "The potential economic losses that new offshore drilling would bring to our existing coastal economies and the potential for damage to treasured coasts and marine resources would be devastating."

Weaver predicts that more cities, towns and businesses along the coast will make their opposition to drilling heard: "These are communities that know that their way of life and their economies and livelihoods depend on a clean coast."