The Trump administration is advancing plans to open up the vast majority of the Outer Continental Shelf to energy exploration and development, a move that a leading national security voice in Congress says will be another major boost to the economy and protect American interests by ending any dependence on rogue states that sit on a lot of oil.

On Thursday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he was moving forward with ambitious plans to increase America’s domestic energy supplies.

Zinke says the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program “proposes to make over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development.”

He says that is a dramatic shift from the policies of the Obama administration.

“By comparison, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits. In addition, the program proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history,” he said.

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Wittman says the Obama administration often pointed out that it allowed energy companies to locate deposits of oil and gas, but companies refused because they knew the government would deny them leases to actually extract the energy, making the exploration costly and pointless.

Zinke notes that the 47 potential lease sales as part of the Draft Proposed Program include “19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 7 in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 9 in the Atlantic Region.”

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., sits on the House Natural Resources Committee and is thrilled with the development.

“I think this is a giant move,” said Whitman who, unlike some other congressional Republicans, says he would be fine with productive, safe energy production off the coast of his state.

Wittman points out there is much more of the process to go through to get the production going. There are multiple public comment periods and other hurdles to clear, including putting together the infrastructure to determine where oil and gas can be tapped on the Outer Continental Shelf.

For his district in southeast Virginia, the impact of energy production on the operations of the U.S. Navy will be a key issue to address.

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When it does come, he expects the first action to come in the Gulf of Mexico since the infrastructure is better built there.

While activists and lawmakers in both parties worry about the environmental impact, Wittman says the technology is getting better all the time.

“I believe we can put the proper controls into place to protect the environment but also develop our energy offshore. I think this is a significant step forward and certainly cements United States energy security well into the future,” said Wittman.

He says disasters like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion offered many lessons for energy producers.

“There’s been some criticism that the lessons learned in Deepwater Horizon haven’t been put in place in the regulatory realm. I think where that should be reflected is in the permitting realm. Make sure the permitting is there with the proper construction guidelines and protections. Those are absolutely critical,” said Wittman.

He says many critics forget that Deepwater Horizon was a result of human error, trying to stretch equipment beyond its capacity.

While critics of the plan, including many Democrats, believe national energy policy ought to be focused on renewable forms of energy, Wittman says reality dictates that this type of exploration and production is essential to meet the country’s needs.

“You’re going to have to have hydrocarbons as part of that future energy portfolio. If we don’t, then we put the United States at a distinct strategic and economic disadvantage. We do not want to do that,” said Wittman, who says efficient production and use of traditional energy sources will provide more time to develop more effective renewable options.

If the Zinke plan does come to fruition, Wittman expects it to be an economic windfall for Virginia and other states.

“For Virginia, it would mean thousands of jobs, not only in the construction but also the maintenance of these rigs. Remember, there are boats that go back and forth to tend these rigs. There are highly skilled technicians that operate these rigs. There’s a whole maritime industry that goes with it,” said Wittman.

Wittman also serves on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs its Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. He says energy production brings national security by providing economic security.

“We have seen in the past when we are at the mercy of nations that don’t like us and are aggressively going after us by trying to kill our men and women around the world that serve this nation in uniform and then we rely on them for our energy. That’s a not a good strategic situation to be in,” said Wittman.

“And it gives us the ability to create better situations around the world because we’re not held hostage to relying on those nations for our energy,” he added.

Congress does not need to authorize the program. However, liberal interest groups are likely to slow it down in court. Wittman denounces lawsuits designed solely to grind policy to a halt. He says the bottom line is that the executive branch has the power to do this regardless of whether all Americans support the plan.

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