Power of local voices: Keeping the Atlantic oil free

The Hill
March 25, 2016

By Frank Knapp and Sierra Weaver

We love living on the Southeast coast for the same reason so many Americans travel here: to enjoy the natural beauty, small-town charm, and unique local business scene – not to mention the great fishing. But for the past year, everything we know and love about coastal towns from Virginia to Georgia was at risk. A pending decision about oil and gas drilling off of our coasts jeopardized our economies and communities.

But all of that concern was relieved last week when the Obama administration announced it was removing the Atlantic from consideration for drilling entirely. This is not just a victory for those who love our coastal communities, beaches, and wildlife. This is a victory for bipartisan efforts that bring people together from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to fight for a common goal.

As representatives of the business and environmental communities, we both understood that offshore drilling was simply not worth the risk. And we’re not alone. The Administration clearly heard the overwhelming opposition from coastal communities, business owners, and local elected officials from across the political spectrum.

More than 100 coastal communities passed anti-drilling resolutions, including major cities like Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Savannah, and Wilmington. Meanwhile, leading tourism and business associations like the Virginia Beach Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce, and the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce have united hundreds of local businesses in opposing the plan.

We couldn’t be more pleased with the final outcome.  The coastal economies all of us depend on won’t be threatened anymore.

Take South Carolina’s beaches as an example. As some of the country’s most beloved vacation spots, tens of thousands of families have spent their happiest times building sandcastles and taking in the gorgeous view of lapping water. The local South Carolina economies depends on tourism, and it’s hard to imagine those coastal communities having the same appeal with refineries, pipelines, tankers, and the inevitable oil on their beaches.

The same could be said for hundreds of other beloved spots along the Southeast coast, such as the Outer Banks, Virginia Beach, Savannah, and countless small beach towns that were on the front line to stop this plan.

Certainly, the oil and gas industry hasn’t been shy about touting the supposed economic benefits of this plan for Southeastern states, but independent analyses have raised questions about the industry’s faulty assumptions and outdated data.

Rather than banking on promises from the oil industry, the Administration listened to the broad coalitions standing up for their communities and ultimately agreed that drilling for oil simply wasn’t worth the risk. Offshore drilling would have jeopardize existing businesses like those in tourism and fishing that today provide billions in revenue and good jobs to many Southeast residents.

The oil and gas industry didn’t anticipate the response this plan received from communities along the Southeast coast. They didn’t anticipate that we would recognize the threat drilling poses to our way of life. And they certainly weren’t expecting us to take action and win.

But that’s exactly what’s happened.

All too often in these debates, the oil and gas industry is able to influence and fund itself to a victory. But we hope this win represents a shift in that story we know all too well. We hope this will be an example and inspiration to local communities to fight back when their economy and way of life is at stake.

Knapp is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and Weaver is the leader of the Coast and Wetlands Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center.


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