Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is applauding President Barack Obama's decision to open portions of the Atlantic Coast to offshore energy exploration.
At a news conference in Richmond on Wednesday, McDonnell said Virginia is first in line to begin exploration. He said the
president's decision will mean thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in new state revenues.
Offshore oil and gas exploration in Virginia has had strong bipartisan support. Sen. Mark Warner said he supports offshore exploration as part of what he calls an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy independence.
Environmentalists have been vehemently opposed to more oil platforms off the nation's shores. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said the decision could endanger the blue crab and other species. The foundation said crabs float near the surface of offshore
waters during their larval stage and can't escape spills.
Foundation president Will Baker said a spill could destroy an entire year of newborn crabs, threatening the livelihoods of
watermen and others.
The foundation said the Virginia coast is as much a part of the bay ecosystem as the rivers that feed the Chesapeake. Baker said
Obama's executive order last year calls for a strategy to cut bay pollution and offshore drilling is a new pollution source capable
of devastating damage.
The White House is offering a fig leaf to enviros by rejecting some new drilling areas that had been planned in Alaska. The president is also keeping a moratorium on drilling off the West Coast.
However, oil drilling will be allowed 50 miles off Virginia's shorelines. The Obama administration said the reversal would reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil and create jobs. It could also boost support for a climate change bill languishing in Congress.
A former Maryland lawmaker who helped pass the state's ban on oil and gas drilling in the Chesapeake Bay said drilling off the Virginia coast must be accompanied by tight safeguards and monitoring.
Former Maryland Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad said the 1988 ban on oil and gas drilling in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake still
remains in effect.
Winegrad said he finds it perplexing that drilling will be allowed while proposals for wind energy have languished before federal regulators. Winegrad was a member of a coalition of former governors, congressmen, scientists and others that recently proposed a bay restoration strategy tougher than one being developed by the EPA. Winegrad says the coalition has not taken a position on the Virginia drilling decision.