Senate Democrats slam White House oil drilling plan

Washington (CNN)Several Democratic senators from states along the East Coast roundly criticized Tuesday the Obama administration's plan to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

The move by Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Ben Cardin of Maryland comes a day after the all-Republican congressional delegation slammed the President's proposal to declare 12 million acres of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) off-limits to drilling. The Republican opponents of that plan said the White House's move would hurt Alaska's economy. Democrats on Tuesday used a similar argument, arguing a potential oil spill could be catastrophic to the economies of their states.
"The fact is drilling in the Atlantic is a risk-reward proposition," Menendez said. "All of the risk is put on the backs of our shore communities and all of the reward goes to Big Oil."
The proposed plan released by the Department of the Interior would include 14 potential lease sales in eight planning areas -- 10 in the Gulf of Mexico, three of the coast of Alaska and one in part of the Mid- and South Atlantic, which includes areas offshore Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia.
    "The safe and responsible development of our nation's domestic energy resources is a key part of the President's efforts to support American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil," said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a statement. "This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop."
    The senators said allowing drilling in the Atlantic posed a steep environmental risk to the tourism and fishing industries and to the environment in their states, regardless of whether the drilling was taking place directly off their shoreline.
    Sen. Markey hailed the president's decision to put parts of ANWR off limits and hopes this group can pressure the administration to do them same in the case of drilling in the Atlantic.
    "You're looking at the beginning of an alliance to put pressure on this administration to withdraw this proposal," he said. "We're gonna look at all of our options. We do not believe this is the correct policy."
    The Interior Department said today's release of the draft proposal is just one step in a multi-year process to develop a final offshore leasing program for 2017-2022.
    Absent from the press conference were Virginia's Democratic senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, who support fossil fuel exploration off the coast of Virginia.