President Obama speaks on energy security at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington in Morningside, Md.
President Obama speaks on energy security at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility Washington in Morningside, Md. - 
Listen To The Story


Kai Ryssdal: I think at some point every president is obliged to say that he wants to get this country off its dependence on foreign oil. President Obama laid down his marker on that subject today. He lifted a longstanding moratorium on oil drilling along much of the eastern seaboard and in northern Alaska.

The president has publicly supported more offshore drilling in the past. But the announcement caught environmentalists, and some oil-friendly Republicans as well, off-guard.

Our sustainability reporter Sarah Gardner has more.

SARAH GARDNER: President Obama said he didn't make the decision lightly, but the bottom line was this...

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.

That rationale didn't sit well with longtime opponents of offshore drilling. Environment America's Anna Aurilio said her group was "outraged" by the president's decision.

ANNA AURILIO: And in fact when I woke up this morning, I felt like I had woken up back in the days of the Bush administration.

But some Republicans today belittled the president's offshore drilling plan as too restrictive. Others saw it as an obvious political ploy to gain votes for controversial climate legislation. The government predicts three more years of oil may come from the new drilling. Some analysts say it's an insignificant step towards getting America off foreign oil and lowering gas prices.

But oil expert Phillip Verlager says no one really knows the potential.

PHILLIP VERLAGER: The important step is that the areas have been opened up to exploration drilling, and we may get surprised.

The oil industry responded by calling Obama's plans a "good first step." But Verlager says whatever comfort the oil industry gets from today's announcement will likely be erased by tomorrow's. That's when President Obama announces higher fuel-efficiency standards, a move that could cut U.S. gasoline consumption and oil profits dramatically.

I'm Sarah Gardner for Marketplace.

Follow Sarah Gardner at @RadioGardner