David Axelrod announced this morning that new offshore oil drilling would not be authorized, pending an investigation into the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent massive oil spill that threatens the Gulf Coast.

“No additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here,” White House senior advisor David Axelrod said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Friday.

Axelrod’s comments are the strongest signal yet from the White House that the accident could alter controversial administration plans to expand oil-and-gas development in federal waters.

“No domestic drilling in new areas is going to go forward until there is an adequate review of what happened here,” he said.

I would guess this is the beginning of a walk-back which will lead to a change in policy. The environmental and ecological impact of this disaster is only beginning to be felt. From the toxic smell from across Louisiana and Florida, to the endangered birds about to be engulfed by an oily stew, to the billions in cleanup costs, there is no way you can measure future drilling without thinking about the BP disaster.

Members of Congress are demanding that the Administration reverse its position on drilling, and the White House has only begun to equivocate. The President should make a clean break. He should stage a news conference and admit his mistake, and armed with new information, create new policy, including an executive order calling for a moratorium on new drilling. He should do it today. We’re not Norway or Saudi Arabia. The benefit is too miniscule, given the costs.

Meanwhile, there’s a cruel irony in the fact that next week, the Minerals Management Service planned an annual luncheon in Houston where they would… extol the safety record of offshore drilling. It’s been canceled.

UPDATE: Bill Nelson basically just said that the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate bill cannot pass with the offshore drilling piece included. I know us liberals are often told to “bow to political reality.” Physicians, heal thyself.

UPDATE II: Harry Reid, from a statement: “This terrible event will, undoubtedly, require us to re-examine how we extract our nation’s offshore energy resources and will have to be taken into consideration with any legislation that proposes to open new areas to development.”

David Dayen

David Dayen

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