The Obama administration today shelved a Bush administration plan to allow drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, delaying a final decision on the controversial policy for at least six months to give states, enviros and others time to weigh in on it.

In announcing the move, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar said that more time was needed to mull offshore renewable energy alternatives "torpedoed" by Bush officials in favor of oil and natural gas. "To establish an orderly process that allows us to make wise decisions based on sound information, we need to set aside" the plan, he said in a statement, "and create our own timeline."

Salazar also ordered the Interior Department to report on potential renewable energy sources such as wave and wind on the Outer Continental Shelf (where the feds oversee 1.7 billion acres), noting that the Bush policy was based on data that is "thin" and at least 20 to 30 years old.

"We shouldn't make decisions to sell off taxpayer resources based on old information," he said.

Congress last year failed to renew a decades-old moratorium on oil and gas exploration across 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf, which left all waters previously off limits (estimated to hold billions of untapped barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas) potentially open to exploration.

But four days before Bush left office, officials issued a draft plan that called for the Interior Department to open areas off the East Coast and the coasts of California and Alaska to oil and gas exploration during a five-year period from 2010 to 2015. (Offshore drilling is already allowed in the Gulf of Mexico.)
Environmentalists and coastal states were up in arms, arguing that drilling could lead to spills (that could sully the waters and harm fish and wildlife) and that the feds' should shift their focus from oil and gas to renewable energy sources.

Salazar said that when he issues a final rulemaking "in the coming months," it "will allow us to move from the 'oil and gas' only approach of the previous administration."

"We must embrace President Obama's vision of energy independence," he added, "for the sake of our national security, our economic security, and our environmental security."

The move comes a week after House Republicans urged Obama to keep the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines open for (oil and gas) business.

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