A proposal to drill for oil and natural gas off the coast of Georgia and other Southern states is now off the table. Last year, the Obama administration said it would consider allowing offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic from Virginia to Georgia. On Tuesday, Sally Jewell, secretary of the Department of the Interior, tweeted that the offshore oil plan the agency will release protects the Atlantic from drilling.
BREAKING → Next 5-year offshore proposed plan protects the Atlantic for future generations.SJ
— Sally Jewell (@SecretaryJewell) March 15, 2016
"We heard from many corners that now is not the time to start leasing off the Atlantic coast," Jewell said on a call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. "This includes many local communities whose livelihoods depend on fishing, tourism and shipping activity. When you factor in conflicts with commercial and national defense activities, market conditions and opposition from local communities, it simply doesn't make sense to move forward with the Atlantic lease sale in the near future."
Environmental groups are celebrating the announcement.
"This is a huge win all around," said Bill Sapp, an attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. "I think it'll be very encouraging to other environmental groups in other parts of the country when this type of proposal might arise in those locations. It's going to be a real boost across the country."
Over the past year, more than 100 cities on the Atlantic coast passed resolutions opposing oil exploration and drilling. Dozens of politicians from coastal districts – both Democrats and Republicans – signed letters asking the federal government not to go forward with the plan, citing concerns about natural areas, tourism and the character of coastal development.
Supporters of the plan to drill had said finding oil in the Atlantic could help local economies and boost energy security.
"Being one who believes in an all-of-the-above policy, that we should utilize everything that's available to us, I do believe that we should at least look into this area and see if the potential is there," said Congressman Buddy Carter, who represents the Georgia coast. "I think it's very short-sighted of us not to look to the future and to the potential that may exist out there."
The Atlantic coast has been off-limits to drilling, and even to surveying for oil, for decades. Representatives from the oil industry had said that with new technology, they might be able to find more reserves.
“This is not how you harness America’s economic and diplomatic potential," Jack Gerard, the president of oil industry group American Petroleum Institute, said in a written statement. "While benefiting from energy policy choices made more than a decade ago, this inconsistent policy leads to unraveling the nation's ability to be a global energy leader."
The Department of the Interior is now collecting comments on the plan it released Tuesday.
The document also outlines lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska. The agency can continue to narrow down where it will consider selling oil and gas leases, but it can't add locations. So now that the Atlantic has been removed, it can't be put back ─ at least in this round. Another administration could start the consideration process for drilling in the Atlantic Ocean over again.