Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
As a massive oil slick made its way toward the Gulf Coast Thursday, Florida's senior senator called on President Obama to put a emergency moratorium on all new offshore oil drilling.
Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, also introduced a bill to stop the Obama administration from moving forward with a plan to expand offshore oil drilling to the area of the Outer Continental Shelf.
In a letter to the president, Nelson specifically asked for an immediate halt to operations on test wells and exploratory activities in all coastal waters until the cause of the Deep Water test well spill is known. That well has been spewing about 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf waters since an explosion last week. It is expected to continue for weeks until engineers can figure out how to stop the flow of oil thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean.
"Drilling too close to the coast poses too great a risk to the economy and the environment of Florida and other coastal states," Nelson warned Obama.
Nelson also told the president he has asked the Department of the Interior's inspector general to investigate a 2003 decision not to require test wells to have emergency systems to cut off oil flow in the event of a disaster.
Nelson's position on a moratorium was not shared by all of his colleagues. Louisiana's Democratic senator, Mary Landrieu, went to the Senate floor to urge the Congress and the administration not to overreact to the disaster. Calling herself "an unabashed proponent" of the oil industry, she said the country should react in "a measured, right way."
Instead of stopping all offshore drilling, Landrieu said the country should focus on improving safety, while understanding that Americans consume 21 million barrels of oil every day, much of it imported from the Middle East.
At the White House Thursday, the president received a briefing from his staff about the spill and Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, announced she will go to the Gulf Coast on Friday to oversee the response to the disaster.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president would reevaluate his decision to expand offshore drilling based on the cause of the Deep Water spill.
Speaking from the Rose Garden Thursday, Obama said he would, "use every single available resource at our disposal, including potentially the Department of Defense, to address the incident."
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