Scroll down to watch video of President Obama arguing against offshore drilling during his 2008 presidential campaign.
(Washington/AP) Reversing a ban on oil drilling off most U.S. shores, President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced an expansive new policy that could put oil and natural gas platforms in waters along the southern Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and part of Alaska.
Speaking at Andrews air base outside Washington, Obama said, "This is not a decision that I've made lightly." He addressed the expected outcry from disappointed environmentalists by saying he had studied the issue for more than a year and concluded it was the right call given the nation's voracious thirst for energy and the need to produce jobs and keep American businesses competitive.
"We're 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," Obama said, according to his prepared remarks released in advance by the White House. "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. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term."
He added: "To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake."
Obama made no secret of the fact that one factor in his decision was securing Republican support for a sweeping climate change bill that has languished in Congress. But Obama has long stated his support in favor of the "tough decision" to expand offshore drilling
The plan modifies a ban that for more than 20 years has limited drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico. It allows new oil drilling off Virginia's shoreline and considers it for a large chunk of the Atlantic seaboard. At the same time, he's rejecting some new drilling sites that had been planned in Alaska.
A number of environmental groups have come out swiftly and strongly against the plan.
Michael Brune, the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, released the following statement:
"We're very disappointed to see important areas like the Arctic coast and the Mid and South Atlantic stay open to oil drilling.
"What we need is bold, decisive steps towards clean energy, like the new clean cars regulations announced this week--not more dirty, expensive offshore drilling.
"The oil industry already has access to drilling on millions of acres of America's public lands and water. We don't need to hand over our last protected pristine coastal areas just so oil companies can break more profit records."
The Executive Director of Greenpeace, Phil Radford, is equally critical of the move.
"Is this President Obama's clean energy plan or Palin's drill baby drill campaign? While China and Germany are winning the clean energy race, this act furthers America's addiction to oil. Expanding offshore drilling in areas that have been protected for decades threatens our oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them with devastating oil spills, more pollution and climate change."
House Minority Leader John Boehner made the following statement:
"It's long past time for this Administration to stop delaying American energy production off all our shores and start listening to the American people who want an "all of the above" strategy to produce more American energy and create more jobs," the House GOP leader added. "Republicans are listening to the American people and have proposed a better solution - the American Energy Act - which will lower gas prices, increase American energy production, promote new clean and renewable sources of energy, and encourage greater efficiency and conservation."
'The Atlantic's'Mark Ambinder writes about the politics behind the decision:
By announcing this BEFORE the Senate moves forward with its climate change legislation, which may or may not include cap-and-trade (probably not), the White House is betting that they'll force Republicans into a corner before the public debate begins, they'll give some cover to moderate Democratic members of Congress (who love it when Obama picks a fight with his own base), and they'll get some public cred with Americans who want to see the president moving quickly to find opportunities to create jobs. This isn't about votes in Congress per se, it's about perception, cover and framing the debate. It's also a move that tries to get ahead of rising gas prices.
WATCH: Obama argued against offshore drilling and supported a moratorium on it during his 2008 presidential campaign.