An E&E News Publication
January 8, 2018
By Kelsey Brugger and Pamela King, E&E News reporters
Hundreds of state legislators are banding together to fight the Trump administration’s plans to seriously expand offshore drilling.
The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators announced that more than 225 state legislators from seven coastal states plan to oppose the proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, commonly known as the five-year leasing plan. It’s the latest bipartisan effort to block offshore drilling in waters beyond the Gulf of Mexico, where almost all federal extraction occurs.
Last January, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed to open up more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf, angering environmentalists, coastal politicians and many small-business owners.
Interior officials have since said the draft proposal was merely exploratory and would be winnowed down. The latest iteration was expected to be released in the coming weeks but has likely been delayed by the government shutdown, S&P Global Platts reported.
Still, opponents are not wasting any time.
Eight legislators are set to introduce bills across the country to ban offshore drilling in state waters, including in Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island.
“In Georgia, we understand that climate change is real and that we are elected at the state level to protect good jobs, clean water and breathable air,” said Georgia state Rep. Park Cannon (D).
The effort builds on offshore drilling bans passed last year in California, Delaware, Florida, Maryland and New Jersey. The intention was to prohibit fossil fuel infrastructure from passing through those states, which have jurisdiction 3 miles offshore.
The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators unites 1,000 environmentally minded legislators from both political parties.
Also, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson — a Republican — yesterday joined a challenge from municipalities and environmental groups to block seismic testing from occurring in the Atlantic Ocean. A coalition of nine East Coast states last month signed on to the lawsuit (E&E News PM, Dec. 20, 2018).
Wilson is the first Republican attorney general to join the case.
“This state joining in, supporting municipalities and the Small Business Chamber of Commerce in efforts to protect our coast, sends the message that we don’t want this in South Carolina,” South Carolina Environmental Law Project Executive Director Amy Armstrong said in a statement.
Frank Knapp, president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, called Wilson’s move “huge.”
“The AG adding other causes of action such as public nuisance and challenging the validity of the President’s executive order will increase our chances of stopping the permitting process for blasting our ocean to look for oil that we don’t want or need,” he said in an email.
The American Petroleum Institute, the International Association of Geophysical Contractors and several exploration firms last month moved to intervene in defense of the seismic permits.
“There is no evidence that sound from seismic surveys harm marine mammals or their environment, and surveying has been used safely for 80 years — including during the Obama administration — and reduces the need for multiple test wells, minimizing the environmental footprint and impact,” API spokesman Reid Porter wrote in an email.
In 2014, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a finding of “no documented scientific evidence” of harm from seismic testing to marine species and coastal economies.
Opponents of the practice have asked federal regulators to revisit the impact of seismic testing on radioactive waste deposits buried beneath the Atlantic floor (Greenwire, May 3, 2018).
It remains to be seen exactly what the Trump administration’s five-year leasing plan will look like. Governors’ voices have been considered by previous secretaries, according to Oceana’s Diane Hoskins.
“Pretty much every governor wants out,” she said last fall.
During the 2018 election campaign, Brian Kemp (R), who narrowly won Georgia’s gubernatorial race, said he would be willing to get in the way of offshore drilling. “Look, I support offshore drilling — I just don’t want it to be off the coast of Savannah,” Kemp said in July, according to the TV news station WSAV.