President Obama is expected to allow drilling in the Atlantic Ocean for the first time in three decades in a draft plan that could be released as early as next week.
The five-year plan would run from 2017 through 2022 and would begin after Obama leaves office. That has the oil and gas industry fighting to get every parcel it can into the draft, knowing it could be stripped from the final version as Obama prepares to leave the White House. Environmental groups, meanwhile, say the timing gives them an edge with the president, who has increasingly come to view climate change as a legacy issue.
"At the end of the day this administration is very, very focused on fighting climate change," said Athan Manuel, director of lands protection with the Sierra Club. "The legacy stuff tilts this in our favor."
Groups monitoring the plan said the president is likely to permit exploration and drilling off the coast of Virginia and possibly the shorelines of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The Alaskan Arctic also will be in play, but the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is reportedly seeking a change in how it offers leases to prospective drillers that industry officials say could deter interest. The Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which has been off limits since 2006, is expected to remain so.