The White House, moving forward on a major environmental front, Tuesday established a task force to review plans to drill for oil off the California and Florida coasts.
The panel, to be headed by Interior Secretary Manuel J. Lujan, is to “examine in detail the concerns over adverse impacts” of Lease Sale 91 off Northern California, Lease Sale 95 off Southern California, and Lease Sale 116 off southern Florida.
The announcement by White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater confirmed that the panel had been broadened to include the chiefs of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or their designees. Their omission from earlier discussions of the task force had angered environmentalists.
The announcement also served as a rejoinder to critics within the Administration, who earlier this month accused the White House of moving slowly on the offshore drilling issue.
The review, promised by President Bush in an address to Congress in January, represents a significant reconsideration of the Reagan Administration’s plans to broaden the scope of offshore drilling on outer continental shelves.
A leading opponent of offshore drilling, Rep. Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey), welcomed the White House action, saying that he hopes it will mark “the first step in the development of a sensible policy on this very difficult issue.”
Fitzwater made clear, however, that the President remains “committed to continued outer continental shelf oil and gas development in an environmentally sound manner.
“The President feels that oil and gas development of America’s offshore areas is necessary to ensure a reliable supply of energy and provide for the nation’s economic and national security,” Fitzwater said.
The task force is to report its findings to Bush by Jan. 1, 1990.