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Campaign urges reinstating ban on offshore oil drilling

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 30, 2010; 4:40 PM

The liberal group MoveOn.org, which was one of President Obama's staunchest supporters during the 2008 campaign, called on its members Friday to telephone the White House and demand that Obama reinstate the ban on offshore oil drilling.

In a blast e-mail, the group calls the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a "wakeup call" and urged Obama to reverse his position to allow new oil drilling and exploration along vast new stretches of the coastline.

"Today, people all across the Gulf Coast can tell you why it's a terrible idea. Instead of drill, baby, drill, they're looking at spill, baby, spill," the e-mail says.

The MoveOn campaign is just one of a series of pleas from lawmakers and environmental groups for the administration to reverse its policy in the wake of the explosion and spill. Four New Jersey lawmakers wrote a letter to Obama on Friday, following a similar one from Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) on Thursday.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said, "No question, this will increase the concern in the Senate again to show you have to be as sensitive to environmental issues on these projects as the economic concerns," adding that it's "going to force a reexamination of how you strike that balance of those considerations in a climate bill."

And Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace, said the spill shows that federal officials cannot trust companies such as BP, who "duped us into thinking this rig couldn't fail. Too good to fail? Maybe not."

In an afternoon briefing with reporters, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to comment on specific letters from lawmakers, including the one by New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) and his colleagues.

Gibbs said a 30-day review of the accident ordered Friday by Obama would not immediately stop or delay any oil rig permitting or construction, since there is no such activity expected during the next month. The next lease sale that could open an offshore area to drilling was initiated during the Bush administration and is planned for August, officials said.

But Gibbs repeated for the second day in a row that the results of the 30-day review and the subsequent investigations could affect the president's thinking on his plan to open more coastal areas to drilling as part of a comprehensive energy security plan.

"As a result of that review, it will affect everything that we take into account," he told reporters.

White House aides added later that Obama is unlikely to reverse his position that more domestic oil drilling is necessary. Rather, they said, the president could insist that any lessons learned from this spill be considered -- and new safety measures implemented -- as new areas for exploration are opened up.

White House aides said that, in the short term, anything found during the review will be used to improve safety at existing wells and to modify the terms of leases like the one due in August.

Over the longer term, they said, the review would inform the long, bureaucratic process through which new areas of drilling are eventually opened up. Gibbs said that even under the president's plan for more drilling, no areas will be sold to private companies for exploration until at least 2012 or later.

Asked whether the White House had discussed the Bush administration's slow response to Katrina in the context of the current crisis, Gibbs said, "I've not heard of an analogy made of that at all."

And he pushed back at a reporter who asked whether the administration was playing "catch-up" in terms of its response. Gibbs noted that the administration had officials at the scene the day after the accident and had ramped up the response as the situation escalated.

"The notion that somehow we are playing catch-up is badly uninformed," Gibbs said.

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