At the end of 2016, residents up and down the Atlantic coast were breathing sighs of relief after successfully arguing to keep offshore drilling away from their beaches, tourism-dependent economies and their very ways of life. But this week, the …
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At the end of 2016, residents up and down the Atlantic coast were breathing sighs of relief after successfully arguing to keep offshore drilling away from their beaches, tourism-dependent economies and their very ways of life. But this week, the possibility of offshore oil and gas drilling returned and again has placed coastal business owners and residents in the position of defending their livelihoods.
The Trump administration has released a draft plan that would open almost all United States waters to offshore oil and gas drilling from 2019 to 2024. This plan envisions a sweeping expansion of oil and gas exploration and drilling in the nation's outer continental shelf, about three nautical miles to as much as 200 miles offshore. The triple threat of seismic airgun blasting to find oil and gas below the ocean floor, coastal industrialization and inevitable oil spills would forever change the Atlantic tourist economy, where drilling has never taken place. These are some of the same areas where coastal residents fought down an Obama administration plan to permit oil and gas drilling off the mid- and southeastern Atlantic coast.
And if expanding offshore drilling isn't bad enough, this plan follows a series of proposed rollbacks announced by the administration last week of safety rules that were put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 people and caused the nation's worst oil spill. In effect, these rollbacks pave the way for another such disaster.
This latest move from the Trump administration is a slap in the face for the hundreds of thousands of people who made their voices heard as President Obama considered opening up more coastal waters to drilling.
President Trump's plan puts powerful fossil-fuel interests ahead of those of coastal businessmen and women. Over the last several years, thousands of Americans petitioned their local, state and federal governments to say no to seismic airgun blasting, which is damaging to marine life, and offshore drilling. They called, they signed petitions, wrote letters, went to city council meetings, held rallies and wrote op-ed essays and letters to the editor; some even traveled multiple times to Washington to meet with their representatives.
I have met these people. They are from all parties. Many are Republicans. Many are business owners. Others are fishermen, veterans, faith leaders and even former oil industry leaders. They saw that their government responded to their concerns when the Obama administration removed the Arctic and Atlantic seaboards from its offshore drilling plan. In removing Atlantic coastal areas from the plan, the Obama administration cited "significant potential conflicts with other ocean uses such as Department of Defense and commercial interests, current market dynamics, limited infrastructure, and opposition from many coastal communities."
The Trump administration seems to be ignoring the voices of those communities.
Last year, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke promised to "listen to state and local stakeholders" as his department reviewed offshore oil and gas. But this proposal plan tells America that so far, the only stakeholders this administration has listened to are industry lobbyists.
Perhaps this will change. There will be a 60-day window for the public to comment on the Interior Department plan. In announcing the proposal, Mr. Zinke said, "Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks."
I hope he does. Oil interests are probably hoping that this new plan will discourage those who fought long and hard to protect their coast. But if I know anything about the people I've met over the last couple of years, they're not the type to be discouraged. And by expanding the threat of drilling to nearly all United States waters, this administration faces a tsunami of opposition from businesses, local leaders and activists on all our coasts.
This offshore drilling proposal will be very real for many people who might not have been involved in politics before. They are getting involved now. The Trump administration may not have listened to state and local stakeholders yet, but soon the president won't be able to ignore the chorus of voices demanding that he keep offshore drilling out of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Jacqueline Savitz is the senior vice president for United States oceans at the ocean advocacy organization Oceana.
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