Offshore drilling under fire from latest energy plan

A new plan by the Interior Department that critics say would lock up more than 85 percent of America???s offshore areas to energy production is drawing negative reviews from congressional Republicans.

The restrictive five-year proposal only allows for 15 new offshore leases in the Gulf region and Alaska, but blocks new drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, including the much sought after Virginia and South Carolina region.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Resources Committee, has not ruled out holding hearings during this 60-day congressional review window, saying the Obama plan forecasts a ???bleak future for American energy production.???

???Because of this administration???s actions, people are worse off today than they were three and a half years ago,??? Hastings said. ???President Obama simply cannot be taken seriously when his energy and job creation rhetoric do not match up with the reality of his actions.???

Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) said he hopes Hastings??? panel will hold new hearings to block the plan until a ???greatly expanded??? alternative can be implemented.

???I think you can count on the fact that the Natural Resources Committee is going to look into this pretty quickly,??? Flores said. ???One of the problems with this plan is that it came out almost 60 days late. This plan was due to Congress on May 1, and like most things that come out of the administration, it was late.???

The limited sale was announced June 28 as part of Obama???s all-of-the-above energy plan, but Flores says it???s not much of a plan.

???I think they know how to say the words but they don???t know what it means. All-of-the-above for them is just a talking point, there???s not an action point,??? Flores said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the plan falls short of what the country needs to get the faltering economy on track.

???While it offers the possibility of two lease sales in the Arctic, it substantially delays them and raises the possibility that they might not happen at all,??? Murkowski said. ???The final plan unilaterally takes millions of acres in the Arctic off the table, in the form of buffer zones and so-called study areas.???

Drilling in VA would mean jobs

The Arctic sales areas would occur in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet Planning Areas. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called it a ???cautious but forward-looking leasing strategy for the Alaska Arctic.???

???We are taking a cautious approach to leasing in the Arctic that accounts for the Arctic???s unique environmental resources and the social, cultural and subsistence needs of Native Alaskan communities, and draws from the best available science as well as any new information that we may learn from activity on current leases,??? Salazar said.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell says offshore drilling would mean thousands of jobs and millions in new revenues for his state, and demonstrates that the administration has abandoned the energy industry.

???I encourage Congress to pass legislation to compel the Interior Department to immediately move to offer oil and gas lease blocks off of Virginia,??? McDonnell said.

???The president claims to have an ???all-of-the-above??? energy strategy, which is now exposed as a ruse. In reality, this administration???s repeated actions have been to attack the production of oil from federal lands, prevent the mining of America???s vast coal reserves, and inhibit the extraction of newly discovered expansive deposits of natural gas. Together these resources offer energy security to our country and jobs to our citizens,??? McDonnell said.

Erik Milito, a director with the American Petroleum Institute, says the plan represents a discouraging pattern of delay and unnecessary restraint despite the industry???s commitment to investing in safe offshore energy development.

???Exploring and developing new areas that offer oil and natural gas gives the United States the golden opportunity to create an additional one million new jobs and billions in new revenue to our government in just seven years,??? Milito said. ???We must move past policies that undermine the mission of supplying Americans with the energy they need.???

Sarah Seman contributed to this report.