President Barack Obama announced plans Wednesday to reverse a decades-old U.S. ban on new drilling for oil and natural gas off some parts of the country's shores. The president's decision also reverses a stance he took in the 2008 election campaign.
President Obama said allowing some new offshore drilling will help meet the nation's energy needs while alternative energy sources are being developed.
"So today, we are announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration, but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America's natural resources," said President Obama.
The reversal would permit new drilling in the Atlantic Ocean off the southern United States, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and near part of Alaska.
But the Obama plan will cancel all but one proposed or pending lease for drilling in Alaska.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama opposed allowing new drilling, contrary to his Republican opponent John McCain. Now, however, the president's change in policy could win support from some Republican lawmakers for the president's sweeping climate legislation.
But environmentalists and some Democrats are disappointed with the decision, and Mr. Obama stressed that his energy plan is mainly concerned with developing new sources of energy.
"This announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy," said Mr. Obama.
The president also cautioned that allowing more drilling will not solve America's energy challenges.
"We have less than two percent of the world's oil reserves," said the president. "We consume more than 20 percent of the world's oil. What that means is that drilling alone cannot come close to meeting our long-term energy needs."
Mr. Obama made the announcement at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, in front of an F-18 fighter jet which is being tested using a mix of biofuels. The jet will be flown for the first time on April 22 - Earth Day. The U.S. Navy has set a goal of using 50 percent alternative fuels in all of its planes, ships and vehicles within a decade. It is estimated that the military uses about 300,000 barrels of oil a day, about 1.5 percent of all of the oil consumed in the United States.
The president also announced that the U.S. government will double the number of hybrid-fuel vehicles in its fleet.