The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it is removing the Atlantic coast from its upcoming oil and gas lease sale, a departure from earlier plans to open up the region for drilling.
The new lease plan for 2017 to 2022, revised from a previous version released last year, still includes new lease sales in the Arctic and Gulf of Mexico, but removes the highly controversial eastern portion of the outer-continental shelf.
Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell told reporters that the change is a reflection of the fact that the White House "heard form many corners that now is not the time to start leasing off the Atlantic coast." The department cited concerns about the potential impacts development might have on lucrative coastal tourism and fishing economies.
Instead, Jewell said, the revised plan focuses on "areas with highest potential and industry interest." That includes leases in Alaska's Cook Inlet and Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.
Jewell said the department received more than 1 million comments on the proposed lease plan, and held numerous public and stakeholder meetings.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Hopper said that the agency also concluded that taking the Atlantic out of the lease sale would only lower U.S. oil production by 0.1 percent.
Environmental groups and coastal communities in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia had pushed back on the plan to open up the Atlantic, even as the governors of those states endorsed it. More than 100 cities and towns along the coast passed resolutions against drilling. Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement that it was "an incredible day for the Southeast."
"Communities along the Atlantic have been strongly unified against this plan, and we are grateful the President listened," she said.
Athan Manuel, director of lands protection at the Sierra Club, also credited the pushback from those communities with changing the White House and Interior's position. But his group and many others are still disappointed that the revision still includes new lease sales in other regions of the OCS.
"We're very glad they listened to the grassroots and took the Atlantic out," Manuel told HuffPost. "We need to keep doing that when it comes to the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico."
Many Republicans from the southeast criticized the move. Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) issued a statement accusing President Obama of "placating his political allies over helping the economic needs of the American people." The American Petroleum Institute, which represents the industry in Washington, also said in a statement that the new plan "appeases extremists who seek to stop oil and natural gas production."