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Administration Did Not Consult Key Federal Body in Drilling Expansion Decision

In making its decision to expand offshore drilling earlier this year (before the massive oil spill in the Gulf), the Obama administration did not work closely with two key federal bodies responsible for environmental oversight.

At the second meeting of the National Oil Spill Commission today, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley said the council was not “specifically asked for anything” in the run-up to President Obama’s decision. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the agency was consulted in making the decision, but “was not in a position” to offer its approval of the final plan.

The revelation appears to be in stark contrast to March remarks by President Obama announcing the new offshore drilling plan, which would have allowed drilling along the lower part of the East coast and in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. Obama said he had worked with members of his administration for more than a year to develop the plan. But the remarks of Sutley and Lubchenco indicate that the administration did not work closely with at least two key federal bodies responsible for the protection of the environment and the oceans — issues that have taken on new importance in the aftermath of the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

In addition, Lubchenco said NOAA was not asked specifically if it had the resources to oversee the environmental reviews associated with additional drilling. In fact, Lubchenco said earlier at the meeting, “We are seriously hampered by lack of resources to do many of these [reviews], especially under the time frames that are required.” Under the law, there is a 30-day time frame for certain environmental reviews.

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