RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says moving closer to drilling offshore of the Carolinas is a step in the right direction.

On Tuesday, the Department of the Interior announced a draft of a five-year plan to sell oil and gas exploration leases off the shores of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

Gov. McCrory chairs the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, a group of coastal state governors favoring offshore energy development. The governor said in a statement that responsible development of gas and oil off the coast will create thousands of jobs and generate billions in tax revenue.

He said it will also help the nation move closer to energy independence.

McCrory’s group wants revenue-sharing for coastal states to compensate local communities for infrastructure, environmental protection and other needs that could be created by offshore exploration. 

Meanwhile, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said the Obama administration’s plan to open up waters off the southern U.S. to oil and gas exploration did not go far enough.

"While I am glad that President Obama is now considering allowing offshore natural gas and oil exploration, his proposal is wholly inadequate and effectively prevents individual states from unlocking their full energy potential,” Tillis said in a statement. 

Tillis also said legislation he and fellow Sen. Richard Burr proposed earlier this month would create thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic activity.

Despite that enthusiasm, conservation groups are vowing to challenge the plan. 

In a post on its Facebook page, nonprofit Oceana said, “Get ready to push back with us against the plan's destructive elements.” The post has garnered more than 600 likes.

Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, encouraged opponents to take advantage of a 60-day period during which the public can make comments on the plan. 

Weaver argued offshore exploration's potential benefits do not outweigh potential risks to the environment and revenue-generating industries, like tourism. 

“We know that from the Deepwater Horizon that drilling in deep water does not protect oil from reaching the coast if a major blowout occurs,” she said. 

Mac Montgomery, former mayor of Kure Beach and a member of the NC League of Conservation Voters, said that wind and solar energy offer better, safer alternatives.

"I think we need to look 20 to 50 years ahead about where we're going to be, not for my generation, but for the generation of my grandchildren and others,” he said. 

Based on information from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, leases in the mid and south Atlantic would not be scheduled to start until 2021.