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Obama Administration To Allow Drilling Off Southeastern Atlantic Coast

The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it will allow oil companies to drill off the southeastern Atlantic Coast. The move will also restrict access along parts of Alaska's coast.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Obama administration unveiled a draft plan today that would allow oil companies to drill off parts of the Atlantic Coast - more specifically, from Virginia all the way down to Georgia. NPR's Jeff Brady reports the plan is likely to ignite a long political battle.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: There are strong feelings about offshore drilling, especially in places where it's been banned.

AMY BAXTER: Actually I do not like it.

BRADY: In the North Carolina coastal city of Wilmington, stay-at-home mom Amy Baxter says she's worried about environmental effects.

BAXTER: I just think the chance for accidents and spills, the wildlife - it's just - needs to be researched a lot more than just allowing it in a couple of years.

BRADY: The administration is writing a five-year plan that begins in 2017. It determines where offshore drilling will be allowed.

BERNIE MARKEY: Yeah, it doesn't bother me.

BRADY: Carpenter Bernie Markey took a break from cutting planks of wood in downtown Wilmington to say he's not worried about offshore drilling.

MARKEY: I don't think the government's in control of the environment. I think God is.

BRADY: Markey says he hopes more offshore drilling will keep oil prices low. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell says the goal now is to take a balanced approach to exploit valuable oil off the nation's shores and protect the environment. Speaking on the Diane Rehm Show, she said that's why some areas off Alaska's northern coast will be off-limits.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SALLY JEWELL: There are areas up there and elsewhere in the country that we believe are too special to develop.

BRADY: President Obama signed an order that bars drilling in nearly 10 million acres off Alaska's shores because those areas are environmentally sensitive and important to Alaska natives. But Jewell said there's nothing in this proposed plan that prevents oil giant Shell from drilling in the area.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

JEWELL: There is ongoing support in our draft proposed plan for exploration in both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

BRADY: The plan got mixed reviews from environmental groups and the oil industry.

ERIK MILITO: We were hoping that they would include the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

BRADY: Erik Milito with the American Petroleum Institute says oil companies also want permission to drill closer to Florida.

MILITO: It is close to existing infrastructure, and we understand and know at this point that the Gulf of Mexico still holds a lot of oil and gas resources that could benefit the U.S. economy and create a lot of jobs.

BRADY: But that area remains off-limits for this planning period. What's included in today's draft is important because it lays out the boundaries for what the Interior Department will consider for future drilling. From this point, areas can only be removed. None can be added. Jackie Savits with the environmental group Oceana is focused on two areas specifically.

JACKIE SAVITS: Our job now is really to try to get the Atlantic and the Arctic removed from the plan before it gets finalized.

BRADY: You can be sure Savits and others will remind policymakers of the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The industry says it learned lessons from that accident and is much safer now. As public hearings over this draft plan begin, that safety record will come under more scrutiny. Jeff Brady, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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