ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) -- Environmentalists are speaking out against proposed offshore drilling along the East Coast from northern Virginia to the Georgia-Florida border, while business groups support the plan.

Offshore drilling (Albatross via Getty Images)

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management proposes opening up a stretch of the East Coast in its latest five-year plan, scheduled to take effect in 2017. The agency also is proposing drilling off the northern Alaska coast, and in the western and central Gulf of Mexico between Texas and Alabama.

At a public hearing Wednesday in Atlantic City, New Jersey, environmentalists said an oil spill could devastate the crucial tourism industry along the East Coast.

But business groups say they need to explore whether significant offshore oil and gas reserves exist to help stabilize energy prices.

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