Virginia lawmakers are lining up behind federal legislation that would open the state's coastline to oil drilling, despite President Obama's insistence that offshore exploration should be limited to the Gulf Coast and Alaska.
Virginia's two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb, are co-sponsoring the legislation, which would alter Obama's five-year blueprint by allowing oil drilling along the Atlantic coast. The president ruled out drilling in the Atlantic after the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Republican-controlled House approved a bill similar to Webb's and Warner's this week. Unlike the Webb-Warner bill, however, the House version did not allow for the sharing of lease and royalty revenues with the states hosting the drilling.
Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said any measure that fails to provide for revenue sharing with the states is a "dealbreaker" because the coastal states that "host the activity and subject ourselves to risk environmentally or otherwise" should see some financial benefit.
The Webb-Warner bill would benefit mainly coastal states, and that has drawn objections from lawmakers from landlocked states who say it's fairer to have any revenues from offshore drilling flow into federal coffers.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., is among those opposed to the revenue-sharing provision, likely dooming the Webb-Warner bill for now. Bingaman, however, is retiring and the top Republican on the committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, supports revenue sharing so the legislation could advance next year.
For now, though, offshore drilling remains a hot button issue in Virginia, a battleground state for both the White House and control of the Senate.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, a top surrogate for Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, used the Webb-Warner bill to portray Obama as out of touch with Virginia voters.
"For too long, President Obama has said no to expanding offshore drilling, a vital energy source that will create jobs and help drive energy costs down nationwide," McDonnell said.
Republican Senate candidate George Allen also supports offshore drilling, and, in a rare moment of agreement, his Democratic opponent, Tim Kaine, expressed support for the bill. Allen and Kaine are competing to replace Webb in the Senate.
For Kaine, the offshore drilling controversy provides an opportunity to distance himself from an Obama policy that is unpopular among Virginians.
"If it can be done safely, and if revenues are fairly shared between the state and federal government," Kaine said, "Virginia should have the opportunity to pursue development of our offshore resources."