Later today, President Obama is set to announce a plan that will open up many offshore areas for oil and natural gas exploration. While the move will surely anger environmentalists, many folks hope that appeasing oil-loving Republicans and conservative Democrats will help achieve bipartisan support for climate legislation.

The proposal, which Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar plan to announce in Maryland later today, will open up the Atlantic coastline, eastern Gulf of Mexico and northern coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas exploration. Many of these areas have never been open to offshore drilling before. The move will also end a moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast, from the tip of Delaware to the Florida coast (about 167 million acres of ocean).

Most environmentalists believe that offshore oil drilling represents a huge environmental risk for a relatively small amount of oil, and for good reason: Oil is hugely toxic to marine life, and just a tiny spill or leak could wreak havoc on ocean ecosystems. However, it’s no secret that many Republicans and conservative Democrats have been strongly opposed to federal climate legislation. Making this concession could appease domestic drilling advocates and help move along a climate bill.

The first area of exploration, the Virginia coast, could open up as early as next year. Other areas cited in the proposal may not see any drilling or exploration for several years yet. And in many areas, drilling would only begin after geologic studies and environmental impact assessments were completed.

Via New York Times