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EPA Employees Protest Trump’s Nominee To Head Agency

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former and current employees of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expressed opposition to President Donald Trump’s pick to run the agency on Monday – in an open letter and a small street protest – reflecting divisions over the new administration’s plans to slash regulation.

Over 400 former EPA staff members sent a letter to the U.S. Senate asking it to reject the nomination of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as the agency’s new leader, saying “he has shown no interest in enforcing environmental laws.”

In Chicago, around 30 employees of the EPA’s regional office there joined a protest organized by the Sierra Club environmental group and the American Federation of Government Employees to protest Pruitt’s nomination.

Doug Eriksen, a spokesman for Trump’s transition team at the EPA, downplayed the Chicago protest, saying “employees have a right to take action on their private time.”

Trump has vowed to cut regulation to revive the oil, gas and coal industries, and has said he can do so without compromising air and water quality. He nominated Pruitt, who has sued the EPA more than a dozen times as Oklahoma’s top prosecutor to block its regulations, to run the agency, sparking alarm among Democrats and environmentalists.

Last Thursday, the Senate environment committee approved Pruitt despite a boycott of his nomination by the panel’s Democratic members. He is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate, in Republican control after last November’s election, but a date for the vote has not been set.

The former EPA employees who sent the letter to the Senate wrote that they believed Pruitt has a history of siding with industry and has been reluctant to accept “the strong scientific consensus on climate change.”

Employees at the Chicago rally raised concerns that Pruitt may cut employees and resources needed for the agency to enforce environmental regulations.

“The EPA needs to be able to enforce the rules when companies are breaking the law,” said Sherry Estes, an EPA lawyer who participated in the protest.

(Additional reporting by Robert Chiarito in Chicago; Editing by Dan Grebler)

IMAGE: File Photo: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt testifies before a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

U.S. Lawmaker Scraps Bill To Sell Public Lands After Intense Backlash

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz said on Thursday he plans to withdraw a bill that would have sold off more than 3 million acres of federal land to private interests after it drew a barrage of negative comments from hunters and outdoor enthusiasts.

Chaffetz said in a post on the Instagram social media site that he would scrap the so-called Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act of 2017, which he introduced last week, saying he feared it sent “the wrong message.”

“I’m a proud gun owner, hunter, and love our public lands,” the Utah representative said in a comment, beneath a photo he posted of himself outdoors wearing hunting gear and holding a dog. “I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow,” added Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

HR 621 is the abbreviated name of the bill, which would have directed the Interior Department to sell off 3.3 million acres of federal land including “to non-federal entities” across 10 western states, which Chaffetz had said were “small parcels of land” that former President Bill Clinton previously identified as “serving no public purpose.”

Sportsmen and women, hunting groups, and outdoor gear retailers had flooded Chaffetz’s Instagram account with thousands of posts, urging him to “say no to HR 621” and to “#keepitpublic.”

Conservation, hunting, and gaming advocacy groups have been raising concerns over the past month about what they see an aggressive strategy by Congress to make it easier to transfer public lands to state control or sell it off.

Last month, on the first day of the new Congress, the House passed a rules package that contained a measure that would facilitate a public lands sell-off by directing the Congressional Budget Office, which provides lawmakers data for budget decisions, to assign no monetary value to the lands.

Outdoors groups say public lands hold value for the outdoor recreation economy. The Wilderness Society values that industry at over $646 billion.

“I don’t think anybody had expected the backlash that has happened as a result of these bills. People are upset out here in the west and it is one of the hottest political issues in western states,” said Brad Brooks, Idaho Deputy Regional Director for the Wilderness Society.

President Donald Trump has advocated for opening up public land for more drilling and mining, although he has said that public land should stay under federal control.

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Tom Brown)

IMAGE: U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz is interviewed during the 2017 “Congress of Tomorrow” Joint Republican Issues Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. January 25, 2017.  REUTERS/Mark Makela

Obama Protects Federal Land In Utah, Nevada

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Wednesday designated over 1.6 million acres of land in Utah and Nevada as national monuments, protecting two areas rich in Native American artifacts from mining, oil and gas drilling in one of his final moves to protect the environment.

“Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes,” Obama said in a statement.

Obama used the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect 1.35 million acres of federal land at Bears Ears in Utah and 300,000 acres at Gold Butte outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. The move will be difficult for President-elect Donald Trump to reverse.

Utah’s governor and congressional delegation opposed the designation as a national monument, saying it went against the wishes of Utah citizens.

“I am deeply disturbed by what has resulted from a troubling process,” Utah Governor Gary Herbert said in a statement. “The president has misused his authority.” He said the state will “aggressively” challenge the action through administrative, legal and legislative means.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval said he would have preferred a more collaborative approach involving the state’s Congressional delegation, ranchers, environmentalists and community members. However, he recognized the “inevitability” of the designation and worked with federal officials on the proposed boundary and to ensure state water laws were followed.

“My priority was to mitigate any disruption a potential designation may cause the surrounding private land owners, communities and recreationists,” he said in a statement.

Obama has used the Antiquities Act and other measures to protect more land and water than any administration in history, the White House said in a statement.

Various tribes and lawmakers have been trying for years to protect the Bears Ears region, home to a wealth of Native American sacred sites, rock art, ancient cliff dwellings and other areas of cultural significance.

Bears Ears has been home to Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute and Zuni, whose leaders welcomed the announcement. The designation will allow them continued access to tribal ceremonies, firewood and herb collection, hunting, grazing and outdoor recreation.

“As a coalition of five sovereign Native American tribes in the region, we are confident that today’s announcement of collaborative management will protect a cultural landscape that we have known since time immemorial,” said Alfred Lomahquahu, vice chairman of Hopi Tribe.

Lomahquahu will serve as a co-chair of the new Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, which will administer the use of the land with federal and state government partners.

Gold Butte in Nevada is home to both Indian artifacts and American pioneer sites.

“The splendor of Gold Butte will now be protected for all of us. It will be enjoyed for generations to come,” said Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid.

U.S. Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, both Republicans, had proposed a land-use bill called the Public Lands Initiative that would have created two national conservation areas for some of Bears Ears but enabled development on other areas.

The House of Representatives did not vote on the bill before recess.

Chaffetz on Wednesday called the designation a “midnight monument,” accusing Obama of a last-minute designation that “cherry picked” parts of his bill “and disregarded the economic development and multi-use provisions necessary for a balanced compromise.”

“We will work to repeal this top-down decision and replace it with one that garners local support and creates a balanced, win-win solution,” he said.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Jim Christie in San Francisco; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the third night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., July 27, 2016.  REUTERS/Jim Young

Senators Ask Trump EPA Chief Pick To Disclose Energy Industry Ties

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats on the U.S. Senate’s environment panel on Wednesday asked President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency to disclose his ties to the energy industry ahead of his confirmation hearing early next year.

The six senators sent a letter to Scott Pruitt, who as Oklahoma Attorney General led several lawsuits against the Obama administration’s EPA to block its environmental rules. They asked him to list his connections to energy companies, to weigh whether these will influence his ability to run the agency.

“What that conduct says about your ability to lead EPA in a manner that is not beholden to special or secret interests is a subject that we expect will receive a full airing during your confirmation hearing,” the senators wrote in the letter.

The senators raised concerns about a 2014 New York Times report, which found that Pruitt’s policy positions as Oklahoma’s top attorney reflected his close ties to Devon Energy Corp.

For his part, Pruitt told The Oklahoman newspaper that Devon Energy was a constituent he represents and the company made people aware of regulatory overreach on fracking.

The senators also noted Pruitt’s involvement with the Rule of Law Defense Fund, which they said supports initiatives by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who have opposed the EPA’s climate change regulations.

They asked Pruitt to submit details about his connections and contributions to the fund, his communications with the fund and a “list of all federal and state legislation or regulations the Fund has taken a position on.”

“The confirmation process, starting with your responses to Committee questions before your hearing, is an opportunity for you to dispel the notion that the advocacy you have undertaken on environmental issues as Attorney General of Oklahoma has been directed by and for the benefit of the energy industry,” the senators wrote.

The senators who sent the letter are Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, New Jersey’s Cory Booker, Massachusetts’ Ed Markey and Maryland’s Ben Cardin.

Rule of Law Defense Fund spokesman Jordan Russell accused the Democratic senators of launching “politically motivated attacks” against his organization, which takes positions on issues from healthcare to federalism. He said donor confidentiality has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

“It is unfortunate that certain Democrat Senators appear willing to trample First Amendment rights in order to score cheap political points,” he said.

(Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

IMAGE: Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Georgia Senators Will Consider Future Clinton Supreme Court Nominees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Georgia’s two Republican senators broke with members of their party, saying they would consider Supreme Court nominees put forward by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton if she wins the presidency, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on Sunday.

The comments from U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, who is up for re-election on Tuesday, and U.S. Senator David Perdue came after Republican Senators John McCain and Ted Cruz suggested they might block any of Clinton’s potential nominees.

“You don’t shirk your responsibility when you’re an elected official. You sanctify your responsibility, and that’s what I’ll do. I’ll consider who she nominates at the time she does and make a decision that’s right for the people of Georgia,” Isakson told the Atlanta newspaper.

A spokeswoman for Perdue, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the AJC: “He wants to ensure we have a Supreme Court justice who will uphold the Constitution, and he will examine each nominee independently based on their merits.”

The death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in February has left the nine-member high court short one justice and evenly split between liberals and conservatives.

In March, President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge, to replace Scalia, but the Republican-led Senate has refused to consider the nomination, saying the next president should make the pick.

The Senate’s inaction on Garland, a centrist, has made the Supreme Court a potent issue in the election. After many years of leaning conservative, the court could tilt to the left for the first time in decades if Clinton wins the election.

Isakson said he expects the Senate will confirm Garland before January in the event of a Clinton victory. Some Republicans fear Clinton would nominate a more liberal justice, swinging the ideological balance of the court even further to the left.

(Additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Paul Simao)

IMAGE: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addresses the crowd during a campaign rally in the Hall of Fame Pavilion at Louisville Slugger Filed in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., May 10, 2016. REUTERS/John Sommers II  

Obama Says U.S. Mulling Alternate Routes For North Dakota Pipeline

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said the U.S. government is examining ways to reroute an oil pipeline in North Dakota as it addresses concerns raised by Native American tribes protesting against its construction.

Obama’s comments late on Tuesday to online news site Now This were his first to directly address the escalating clashes between local authorities and protesters over Energy Transfer Partners’ $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline project.

“My view is that there is a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans. And I think that right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline,” Obama said in the video interview.

The U.S. Justice and Interior Departments along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted construction of part of the pipeline in September due to protests by Native American tribes who contend the pipeline would disturb sacred land and pollute waterways supplying nearby homes. The affected area includes land under Lake Oahe, a large and culturally important reservoir on the Missouri River where the line was supposed to cross.

Construction is continuing on sections of the pipeline away from the Missouri River, U.S. refiner Phillips 66 said.

Obama said government agencies will let the situation “play out for several more weeks and determine whether or not this can be resolved in a way that I think is properly attentive to the traditions of First Americans.”

North Dakota officials are girding for a long fight. The state’s emergency commission approved Tuesday another $4 million loan to support law enforcement during the protests.

The fight against the pipeline has drawn international attention and growing celebrity support amid confrontations between riot police and protesters.

The 1,172-mile (1,885-km) pipeline, being built by a group of companies led by Energy Transfer Partners, would offer the fastest and most direct route to bring Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, in a Wednesday statement lauded Obama’s comments and called on the administration and the Army Corp of Engineers to issue a stop-work order on the pipeline on federal land. He also called for a full environmental impact study.

“The nation and the world are watching,” he said. “The injustices done to Native people in North Dakota and throughout the country must be addressed. We believe President Obama and his Administration will do the right thing.”

Archambault told Reuters in an interview before Obama’s comments on Tuesday that the tribe “continues to look at all our legal options,” as the pipeline project moves forward.

Some have said an alternative pipeline route could be a way to get over the impasse.

In North Dakota, gubernatorial candidate Marvin Nelson, a Democratic state representative, said in an interview with Reuters last week that moving the route 10 miles north could make a difference.

“It would take some time to do that, but it seems to me to be a much safer route and it wouldn’t need to cross culturally sensitive land,” he said.

Meanwhile environmental group 350.org urged Obama to reject the federal permit for the entire project.

“There’s no reroute that doesn’t involve the same risks to water and climate,” said Sara Shor, a campaign manager for 350.org.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, Ernest Scheyder and Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Will Dunham and Marguerita Choy)

IMAGE: A North Dakota law enforcement officers stands next to two armored vehicles just beyond the police barricade on Highway 1806 near a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site. REUTERS/Josh Morgan

Obama Power Plant Rules Face Key Test In U.S. Court

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s climate change strategy, federal rules curbing greenhouse gas emissions mainly from coal-fired power plants, faces a key test on Tuesday when opponents try to convince a U.S. appeals court to throw out the regulations.

Twenty-seven states led by coal-producer West Virginia and industry groups are challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan rules before 10 judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

They argue that the EPA overstepped its regulatory authority under the federal Clean Air Act when the agency issued the rules, which the U.S. Supreme Court has put on hold while the case is litigated.

During Tuesday’s arguments, these opponents will face off in court against the EPA, 18 states, corporations including Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google, and a number of cities that support the regulations.

The Clean Power Plan was designed to lower carbon emissions from U.S. power plants by 2030 to 32 percent below 2005 levels, with each state assigned its own emission reduction target and tasked with designing its own plan to achieve that goal.

Power plants are the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions. Nearly 1,500 coal- and gas-fired power plants together emit nearly two billion tons per year of carbon dioxide.

The Clean Power Plan is the main tool for the United States to meet the emissions reduction target it pledged to reach at U.N. climate talks in Paris last December.

“It’s an invasion, in our estimation, of the state regulatory domain,” Scott Pruitt, the Republican attorney general of Oklahoma, one of the states suing the EPA, said at a Washington event this month.

Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University’s law school, said the suing states were exaggerating the regulatory reach of the EPA.

“The Clean Power Plan, while certainly a very important rule, is not the boundary-breaking behemoth that the petitioners make it out to be,” Revesz said.

The Clean Power Plan, if it survives the legal challenge, could prompt a faster shift to renewable energy sources and accelerate the closure of the country’s oldest coal plants.

The fate of the Clean Power Plan was thrown into question on Feb. 9 when the Supreme Court made a surprise 5-4 decision to grant a request by the challengers to put the rule on hold while the appeals court considered the matter.

The eventual appeals court ruling could decide the case, even if it goes to the Supreme Court. The Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia left the court ideologically split with four conservatives and four liberals. A 4-4 ruling by the high court would leave in place the appeals court ruling.

GARLAND STEPS ASIDE

The arguments will be heard by 10 judges rather than 11 because the court’s chief judge, Merrick Garland, has recused himself from the case. Garland is Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia. Of the 10 judges who will hear the case, six were appointed by Democratic presidents.

A 5-5 ruling would leave the regulations in place.

A ruling is unlikely before the end of the year and possibly not until after Obama leaves office on Jan. 20.

The outcome of the Nov. 8 presidential election could be pivotal for the regulations. If Republican Donald Trump wins, the government could reverse the rules or decline to appeal to the Supreme Court should the appeals court strike them down. If Democrat Hillary Clinton is elected, the losing side in the appeals court ruling could be expected to take the case to the Supreme Court.

If the case does reach the high court, it may not make it in time for the justices to hear it during the court term that begins next Monday and ends in June.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Additional reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to speak at the dedication of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Trump Taps Climate Change Skeptic As Energy Adviser, Pushes Back On Taxes

Donald Trump on Friday pushed back against renewed calls that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee release his income tax returns before the election, and picked a prominent climate change skeptic to help him formulate his energy policy.

American presidential candidates have voluntarily released their tax returns for decades. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and her rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, have both released their returns.

Trump, who has all but locked up the Republican Party’s nomination for the Nov. 8 presidential election, has said the Internal Revenue Service was auditing his returns and he wanted to wait until the review was over before making them public.

“It should be, and I hope it’s before the election,” Trump told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Trump is building out his policy proposals as he pivots from campaigning for his party’s nomination to the general election, including tapping experts in various fields.

Among those he has asked for help is U.S. Republican Representative Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, one of the country’s most ardent oil and gas drilling advocates and climate change skeptics.

North Dakota has been at the forefront of the U.S. shale oil and gas boom. Cramer endorsed Trump earlier this year.

Trump has asked Cramer to write a white paper, or detailed report, on energy policy, according to Cramer and sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Cramer was also among a group of Trump advisers who recently met with lawmakers from Western energy states, who hope Trump will open more federal land for drilling, a lawmaker who took part in the meeting said.

Cramer said in an interview that his paper would emphasize the dangers of foreign ownership of U.S. energy assets, burdensome taxes, and over-regulation. Trump will have an opportunity to float some of the ideas at an energy summit in Bismarck, North Dakota on May 26, Cramer said.

A spokeswoman for Trump’s campaign did not comment.

Environmental groups gave Trump’s pick negative reviews.

“Kevin Cramer has consistently backed reckless and dangerous schemes to put the profits of fossil fuel executives before the health of the public, so he and Trump are a match made in polluter heaven,” Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce said in an emailed statement.

Cramer also came in for criticism from NextGen Climate, a lobbying group.

Trump has been light on details of his energy policy so far, though he recently told supporters in West Virginia that the coal industry would thrive if he were president. He has also claimed global warming is a concept “created by and for the Chinese” to hurt U.S. business.

Clinton has advocated shifting the country to 50 percent clean energy by 2030, promised heavy regulation of fracking, and said her prospective administration would put coal companies “out of business.”

But the ins and outs of campaigning continue to be a major topic with Trump, who has never held elected office.

On Friday, the billionaire real estate developer, who has often boasted of his wealth, was asked why he had been willing in the past to release his tax information to Pennsylvania and New Jersey officials when seeking casino licenses, even though he was being audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

“At the time it didn’t make any difference to me. Now it does,” Trump said.

Pressed on what tax rate he pays, Trump refused to say. “It’s none of your business,” he said.

“Before 1976, people didn’t do it,” he added. “It used to be a secret thing.” Trump has said there is nothing voters can learn from his tax filings.

The IRS declined to comment on whether he or any other presidential candidates were being audited.

However, the Trump campaign earlier this year released a letter from his attorneys saying his personal tax returns have been under “continuous examination” from the IRS.

This week, Clinton began calling on her probable Republican rival to release his returns, as she has. Last August, the former U.S. secretary of state posted the past eight years of tax returns for her and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, on her website. Sanders released his 2014 return in April.

Presidential candidates have a long history in the modern era of releasing their tax returns.

“In 1976, Gerald Ford did not release his returns, but he did release some information about his taxes,” said Joseph Thorndike, director of the Tax History Project at Tax Analysts, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that provides tax news and analysis.

“That was the last time that a major party nominee hasn’t done it,” he said.

Tax filings show sources of income, both from within the United States and other countries, as well as charitable giving, investments, deductions and other financial information.

 

Reporting by Megan Cassella and Susan Heavey; Writing by Luciana Lopez; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jonathan Oatis

Photo: An anti-Trump mask and sign sit outside Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington, May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Obama Administration Reverses Course On Atlantic Oil Drilling

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration reversed course on Tuesday on a proposal to open the southeastern Atlantic coast to drilling as an oil price slump and strong opposition in coastal communities raised doubts about the plan.

Besides market and environmental concerns, the U.S. Interior Department said it also based its decision on conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses.

The decision, which is sure to reverberate in the presidential election campaign, reverses a January 2015 proposal for new leases in the Atlantic as part of the department’s five-year plan to set new boundaries for oil development in federal waters through 2022.

“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

“When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years.”

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner in the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination to run in the Nov. 8 presidential election, has moved to the left on environment under pressure from green groups. She tweeted: “Relieved Atlantic drilling is now off the table. Time to do the next right thing and protect the Arctic, too.”

Donald Trump, the businessman and former reality TV personality who is the Republican front-runner, has raised questions about whether more offshore drilling is necessary given the abundance of onshore shale production.

The proposal would have opened up drilling sites more than 50 miles off Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia to oil drilling by 2021.

Coastal communities in these states protested the administration’s plan, fearing the possibility of an oil spill like the BP Horizon accident in 2010 on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and its effects on tourism and their economies.

“With this decision coastal communities have won a ‘David vs. Goliath’ fight against the richest companies on the planet, and that is a cause for tremendous optimism for the well-being of future generations,” said Jacqueline Savitz, environmental group Oceana’s vice president for U.S. oceans.

Virginia officials had welcomed the initial plan to allow offshore drilling, saying it would bring economic benefits. On Tuesday, Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said he was surprised that the Department of Defense had raised concerns about naval installations, one of which is off the state’s coast.

“The DOD has been relatively quiet during this public debate and has never shared their objections with me before,” he said.

 

Objections

Major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp, Shell and Chevron, had pushed for an open Atlantic.

Shell Oil Company spokeswoman Natalie Mazey said the decision was “short sighted” and would “jeopardize the abundance of affordable domestic energy the economy has become dependent on.”

The American Petroleum Institute said the decision goes against the will of voters, governors and members of Congress who support more development.

“The decision appeases extremists who seek to stop oil and natural gas production which would increase the cost of energy for American consumers and close the door for years to creating new jobs, new investments and boosting energy security,” said API President Jack Gerard.

The Interior Department also announced Tuesday that it would evaluate 13 other potential lease sales in other areas of the country – 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska.

“The proposal focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest, and established infrastructure,” Jewell said.

The Interior Department said that in the Gulf, resource potential and industry interest are high and infrastructure already exists.

It proposes two annual lease sales that include the Western, Central, and part of the eastern Gulf of Mexico not subject to the current congressional moratorium.

It also includes a potential sale each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet planning areas in Alaska. The department would take comments on other options, including an alternative that includes no new leasing.

 

Concerns About Arctic

While green groups praised the decision to keep the Atlantic off limits for now, they raised concerns that the United States would keep the door open for drilling in the vulnerable U.S. Arctic.

“The administration must take Arctic leases out of the final five-year plan,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “No place has potentially more to lose due to climate change than the Arctic.”

The Interior Department will open the five-year proposal to a 90-day comment period.

 

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, additional reporting by Timothy Gardner and Ernest Scheyder in Houston; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)

Photo: Marine One, carrying President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie,  take an aerial tour of the Atlantic Coast in New Jersey in areas damaged by superstorm Sandy, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, Pool)