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Obama unveils scaled-back oil-drilling plan

December 1, 2010 | 12:27 pm

Citing the lessons of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Obama administration reversed course Wednesday and pulled plans to open the eastern gulf and portions of the Atlantic coast to oil and gas exploration.

"We need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said, adding that federal leasing efforts would focus on areas of the western and central gulf already open to drilling activity. "There's plenty of opportunity for oil and gas companies," he said.

Wednesday's announcement leaves open the potential for leasing in Arctic waters, but it specifies that no new leases will be granted there until substantial environmental and spill-response studies are conducted.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida called the decision "an enormous victory for the state," while the GOP lawmaker expected to be the next chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee condemned the administration's change of plans.

"We shouldn't allow this single event to disrupt our long-term need for an all-of-the-above energy plan that includes the responsible development of our nation's oil and gas resources," said Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).

In what was seen as an attempt to garner Republican support for the president's energy and climate-change policies, the Obama administration in late March proposed moving toward drilling in the mid- and South Atlantic and the eastern gulf -- areas that had been off-limits to oil exploration for decades.

A few weeks later, the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history began spewing millions of gallons of crude into the gulf and the shortcomings of the federal government's oversight of drilling operations were spotlighted.

-- Bettina Boxall and Richard Simon