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Obama reinstates ban on offshore oil drilling

The Obama administration this week announced that it will not allow offshore oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as part of the next five-year drilling plan.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said the area in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico that remains under a congressional moratorium and the Mid- and South-Atlantic planning areas are no longer under consideration for potential development through 2017.

The Western Gulf of Mexico, Central Gulf of Mexico, the Cook Inlet and the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic will continue to be considered for potential leasing before 2017, he added.

"As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we learned a number of lessons, most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime," Salazar said in a statement. "Our revised strategy lays out a careful, responsible path for meeting our nation's energy needs while protecting our oceans and coastal communities."

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who has consistently pushed to restrict drilling in the eastern gulf, also welcomed the news.

"Drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast is banned at least until 2022 under a 2006 law passed by Sen. Nelson," Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin told The Washington Post this week. "The senator is pleased the White House has decided rightly to keep the area off-limits. He hopes Florida's next governor and the legislature similarly will commit to protecting the state's tourism economy and unique environment."

Activists such as Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, also praised the administration's plan, saying, "Today anyone who loves our beaches, who fishes in the ocean or who depends on a healthy coastal economy can thank the Obama administration for protecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the west coast of Florida from oil drilling. The BP disaster earlier this year was a tragic reminder that drilling is a dirty and dangerous business. The only way to truly keep our coasts and ocean ecosystems safe is to keep them rig-free."

Oil companies, however, decried the move, saying it would increase dependence on foreign oil.

"This is an unfortunate decision that will eliminate badly needed government revenues, inhibit employment growth and increase reliance on imported energy," said Kenneth Cohen, vice president of public and government affairs at ExxonMobil Corp.

The drilling ban "ignores the industry's track record and commitment to improving environmental and safety performance, as well as the overwhelming evidence that the Gulf of Mexico spill resulted from practices far outside industry norms," Cohen added.

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