An article in the Los Angeles Times early this week says Republican Governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, wants to make Virginia the “energy capital of the East Coast.” I say more power to him! The new governor apparently made this pledge at his swearing-in last month (following the recent expiration of an offshore drilling ban). And the state’s two Democratic senators, Jim Webb and Mark R. Warner, have joined forces with McDonnell to urge the Obama administration to begin selling leases in 2011 for drilling 50 miles offshore. If this lease sale takes place, it will be the first one offshore the Eastern US since 1983. According to the LA Times article, “New drilling has been prohibited in much of the nation’s coastal waters since the 1980s, largely in response to a devastating 1969 oil spill in California, off Santa Barbara. Congress let the ban lapse in late 2008 as high gasoline prices became a hot political issue.” McDonnell petitioned the US Department of the Interior with a letter in which he promoted drilling as a way to aid economic recovery and generate billions of dollars for the state. According to LA Times editor Richard Simon, the plan has broad support. His article quotes Gerry Scimeca, an aide to state Delegate Ron A. Villanueva (a Republican and the sponsor of a pro-drilling resolution approved Wednesday by the Virginia General Assembly on a 69-28 vote) as saying, “We may have this potential bank account sitting out there.” With finances in need of help, Virginia is understandably excited about its potential cash cow. Unfortunately, despite their bipartisan enthusiasm, the Virginia politicians are up against some serious opposition. According Simon, the plan has raised concern from NASA. “The space agency, which operates a launching facility on the Virginia shore, says drilling would pose a safety risk because of the rigs' proximity to where rocket components fall into the Atlantic,” the article says. “You'd think 50 miles out would not be a problem,” NASA spokesman Keith Koehler said. “But for us, it is. It's right in the middle of our launch range.” And of course, there has been opposition from environmentalists, who think drilling could harm the fishing industry and be a deterrent to tourists. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to decide about the lease sale soon. My guess is that there will be a lot of talking around conciliation, but in the end, Salazar will decide true to form – despite the state’s bipartisan support and the recent statement by President Barak Obama in his State of the Union address on January 27 that the nation’s energy security relies on “making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.” Time will tell if a “tough decision” will be made or if the Department of the Interior will take the same well-trodden path.