Some Republicans oppose offshore drilling proposal
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January 17, 2018
Some Republicans oppose offshore drilling proposal

The Department of the Interior’s (DOI) draft proposed program (DPP) to open about 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to oil and gas development has prompted a strong backlash from government leaders in coastal states, both Republicans and Democrats, to go along with the expected opposition of environmental groups. The DPP would replace an existing offshore energy plan developed by the Obama administration and is a product of the Trump administration’s America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, as outlined in the president’s April 2017 Executive Order (EO). The EO stated that it is “the policy of the United States to encourage energy exploration and production, including on the Outer Continental Shelf, in order to maintain the Nation’s position as a global energy leader and foster energy security and resilience for the benefit of the American people, while ensuring that any such activity is safe and environmentally responsible.”

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Florida starts trend

The initial intent of the DPP was to open all of the U.S. OCS to O&G, apart from an area in Alaska that includes Bristol Bay, an immense fishery on which much of the economy of Indian tribes in the area depends. But on the same day the DOI released the DPP, Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott announced that he had contacted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s office to inform Zinke of his opposition to offshore drilling. Zinke and Scott subsequently met, and Florida was withdrawn from the DPP. “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke said on Twitter. “As a result of discussion with Governor Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Zinke said he would have meetings with the governors of all U.S. coastal states to discuss the DPP and their positions on it.

New England bill

Zinke’s decision on Florida raises “serious legal questions and triggers allegations of favoritism,” said a group of federal lawmakers from New England, who, upon release of the DPP, promptly introduced legislation to prohibit O&G drilling off the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. According to the bill’s sponsors, every U.S. Senator and member of the House from New England’s coastal states support the bill.

Sponsors of the bill include Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine. Collins is a solidly moderate lawmaker, whose opposition to the DPP is not surprising. Neither is support for drilling by Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage. LePage is a member of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Governors Coalition, a group of six governors who sent a letter to Zinke in August 2017, voicing support for “the safe, responsible expansion of offshore oil, natural gas, and renewable energy development.”

Also signing the letter were the governors of Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi, Texas, and Virginia. At the time, the governor of Virginia was Terry McAuliffe. McAuliffe has since been replaced by Ralph Northam, who came out in opposition to the DPP.

Other Republican governors opposing the proposal include Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Chris Christie of New Jersey, Larry Hogan of Maryland, and Henry McMaster of South Carolina. John Bel Edwards, the Democratic governor of Louisiana, supports offshore drilling but has yet to express his views on the DPP.

Groups call plan unnecessary

Sixty-four environmental groups issued a joint statement opposing the DPP.

“The proposed drilling plan unveiled by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would radically expand offshore drilling in new areas of the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Arctic waters, and auction off permanently protected areas,” the groups state. “The protections in the current five-year plan are based on scientific analysis and a multi-year public comment process, whereas the Trump Administration’s hastily concocted proposal is rife with unsubstantiated claims, faulty economics, and runs roughshod over documented public opinion.

“There is no need to force coastal residents to shoulder these risks. The nation can meet its energy needs and grow jobs by investing in clean, renewable domestic sources like wind and solar that never run out. We can cut pollution, and keep profits right here at home—not in the pockets of oil industry executives and foreign governments.”

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