Legal Watchdog Probes Obama’s Decision To Cancel Offshore Drilling — Was It Politically Motivated?

Kanok Sulaiman/Shutterstock

Daily Caller News Foundation logo
Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
Font Size:

Did political pressure convince the Obama administration to cancel offshore drilling leases in the Atlantic? That’s what a government watchdog wants to find out in its latest Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Cause of Action will file a FOIA with the Interior Department Wednesday asking for documents related to the agency’s March decision to not offer any Atlantic Coast drilling leases — a complete policy reversal from the year before.

“DOI acknowledged that a majority of the more than one million public comments it received were in support of Atlantic area leasing,” Jessica Conrad, counsel for COA, wrote in her FOIA request.

In 2015, the Interior Department called for as much as 104 million acres of Atlantic offshore areas be open to energy development, including oil drilling, by 2021. The plan was supported by East Coast governors and Democratic lawmakers from the area. Environmentalists, however, adamantly opposed the proposal.

But in March 2016, Interior reversed course and decided not to open the Atlantic to drilling, citing national security concerns from the Department of Defense (DOD) as one of the key reasons for not allowing drilling.

“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,” Interior Sec. Sally Jewell said in March.

Even Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, now the Democratic vice presidential nominee, was shocked at the reversal, noting how the DOD was “relatively quiet” during the debate over Atlantic drilling.

Conrad noted DOD “did not have prohibitive concerns about the inclusion of the Atlantic Region” in the offshore drilling plan, noting they “categorized only 5% of the included Atlantic Planning Areas as ‘No Oil and Gas Activity.’”

The DOD said “the remaining 95% of the Atlantic Planning Areas could be included subject to certain conditions,” Conrad noted.

But it wasn’t long before Kaine too reversed his stance on Atlantic drilling. In August Kaine said he came out against Atlantic drilling because of DOD opposition to it. His change came just after being nominated to run alongside Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Clinton is largely opposed to drilling for oil and natural gas, including drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

“You know what, I actually I am now in that position because the Obama administration has decided not to do offshore drilling because of the Defense Department objects and I share those objections,” Kaine recently told an environmental activist.

Kaine’s reversal came after years of supporting offshore drilling. Kaine introduced a bill in 2013 that would have expanded offshore drilling. He also signed onto a letter to DOI in 2015 pushing for offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

“The changing positions of both the Department of the Interior and Senator Kaine raise questions about whether DOI withdrew the Mid- and South Atlantic Planning Areas from the 2017-2022 Program due to political pressure,” she wrote.

Follow Michael on Facebook and Twitter

All content created by the Daily Caller News Foundation, an independent and nonpartisan newswire service, is available without charge to any legitimate news publisher that can provide a large audience. All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact