President Obama, facing voter anger over high gasoline prices and complaints from Republicans and business leaders that his policies are restricting the development of domestic energy resources, announced on Saturday that he was taking several steps to speed oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters.
It was at least a partial concession to his critics, who say he has shackled domestic energy development at a time when consumers are paying near-record prices at the gas pump. The Republican-led House passed three bills in the last 10 days that would significantly expand and accelerate oil development in the United States, saying the administration was driving up gas prices and preventing job creation with anti-drilling policies.
In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president said the administration would begin to hold annual auctions for oil and gas leases in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, a 23-million-acre tract on the North Slope. The move comes after years of demands for the auctions by industry executives and Alaska’s two senators, Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, and Mark Begich, a Democrat.
The administration will also accelerate a review of the environmental impact of possible drilling off the southern and central Atlantic coasts and will consider making some areas available for exploration. The move signals a change from current policy, which puts the entire Atlantic seaboard off limits to drilling until at least 2018.
The president also said he would extend leases already granted for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean off Alaska that had been frozen after last year’s BP spill. The extension will allow companies time to meet new safety and environmental standards without having to worry about their leases expiring.
The government will also provide incentives for oil companies to more quickly exploit leases they already hold. Tens of millions of acres onshore and offshore are under lease but have not been developed.
Responding to the shift by the administration, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for the House speaker, John A. Boehner, said, “The president just conceded what his party on Capitol Hill still denies: more American energy production will lower costs and create jobs. This reversal is striking, since his administration has consistently blocked American-made energy.”
Hope and change America can believe in.
Here’s looking to more Republican bills in Congress that will continue to apply pressure to arguably the most radically anti-jobs administration in history.