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Senators urge Obama to drop Atlantic oil drilling

Maryland Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski joined 10 other senators Monday in urging the Obama administration to drop its proposal to allow oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the senators contended there aren't adequate safeguards against a catastrophic oil spill fouling Atlantic beaches. They also argued the industry already has ample offshore leases elsewhere, and that with seismic testing in the Atlantic still under review, leasing there is premature.

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Their letter comes as the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held a meeting in Annapolis to answer questions and take public comments on its plan to issue offshore leases for drilling over the next five years. The agency is considering allowing drilling along the Outer Continental Shelf from Virginia south to Georgia.

Environmental groups oppose drilling off the Atlantic, and point out that while no drilling is being considered off Maryland, a spill could drift north along the coast or enter the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

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Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley opposed drilling along the Atlantic coast. Gov. Larry Hogan, his successor, is still reviewing the issue and has no position at this time, according to his spokeswoman, Erin Montgomery.

Republican Rep. Andy Harris, whose district includes Ocean City and Assateague Island, said he supports "any effort to make America energy independent and to keep the cost of gas and diesel down, as long as we can do it safely."

A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, meanwhile, complained that federal officials prematurely ruled out drilling off New England, Florida and much of the Mid-Atlantic, including Maryland, apparently based on opposition from governors of those states.

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