PENSACOLA, Fla. - Governors in some coastal states promised to fight attempts to tap offshore petroleum reserves, citing concerns about the environment and tourism. Others agreed with President Bush's call to lift a 27-year-old federal ban on offshore drilling, but said states should decide whether to allow it.
Bush yesterday joined Republican presidential candidate John McCain in calling for the lifting of a prohibition on drilling along the East and West coasts and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. As the battle to lift the moratorium began to play out in Washington, states debated their stance.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California said yesterday that he opposes lifting the ban on new oil drilling in coastal waters.
"We are in this situation because of our dependence on traditional petroleum-based oil," Schwarzenegger said in a statement.
Another McCain ally, Governor Charlie Crist of Florida, reversed his opposition to oil exploration off the state's beaches after the presidential candidate said he supported lifting the moratorium. Crist said the issue is about local control.
"I think that not having that moratorium, blanket moratorium, and letting states' rights be recognized, if you will, certainly is appropriate," he said.
Crist said he didn't know whether Florida legislators would approve drilling, but like McCain he said states should be allowed to make their own decisions. McCain favors lifting the moratorium at the federal level, but permitting states to decide whether to allow it.
The moratorium applies to all federal waters, which extend 3 miles from the states' coastlines. If Congress lifts the federal moratorium without special provisions giving states a say, states would have little control over oil companies' exploration of federal waters.
If that happens, the best recourse of antidrilling states would be to sue the federal government for allowing activities that are odds with the states' coastal management plans, said Lisa Speer, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Virginia and South Carolina have largely supported lifting the moratorium, as have the governors of Mississippi and Alaska. California is joined by North Carolina and New Jersey among the antidrilling states.
"States should be able to control their own destiny with what happens," said Joel Sawyer, a spokesman for Governor Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican.
Those in favor of opening closed areas to drilling say they could eventually yield 18 billion barrels of oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.