Politics

Northeastern Lawmakers Unite Against Trump Offshore Drilling Plan

Republicans and Democrats from region join Florida and West Coast colleagues blasting plan

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, penned a joint letter on Monday to resist the Trump administration’s offshore drilling plans off their state’s coast. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Lawmakers in the Northeast united across party lines on Monday to hazard against President Donald Trump’s offshore drilling plan to re-open more than 90 percent of the U.S. coastline to oil and gas companies.

Roughly 94 percent of the coastline, including the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts, remains off limits to oil and gas drilling. But Trump’s Interior Department revealed a five-year plan proposing 47 potential lease sales to energy companies through 2024, including two in the North Atlantic region from Maine to New Jersey.

In the Northeast, fears of oil spills highlight the arguments against the administration’s plan to tap all the domestic oil and gas it can in pursuit of U.S. dominance of global energy markets.

The risk of an oil spill off the Maine coast “far outweighs any potential benefit,” Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, wrote to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday, citing the environmental fragility of the state’s $1.7 billion lobster fishing industry.

“We oppose any effort to open waters off the coast of Maine or any proximate area to offshore drilling, which could negatively affect the health of Maine’s fisheries and other coastal resources, threatening to harm not only the environment but the state’s economy as well,” King and Collins wrote.

Both House members from Maine, Republican Bruce Poliquin and Democrat Chellie Pingree, oppose lifting the coastal drilling moratorium protections.

In Massachusetts, Sen. Ed Markey has pledged to “pursue all legislative tools available” to counter the Interior Department’s drilling plan.

The plan puts “nearly every single mile of coastline in the United States in the crosshairs of an oil spill,” Markey told reporters in Boston on Monday, the Gloucester Times reported.

“The Trump administration’s plan would be to turn the waters off of Massachusetts and every coastal state in the country into a fossil fuel free-for-all,” Markey said, which “would threaten Massachusetts’ fishing industry, our tourism industry and the environment with the threat of an oil spill.”

In the aftermath of last Thursday’s public reveal of the draft five-year plan, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in Florida and on the Pacific coast were particularly outspoken against the Interior Department draft plan

Offshore speculation and especially potential oil spills could deeply disrupt the economy and defense operations in the region, they argued.

“As the Department of Interior works to finalize their draft plan, I urge Secretary [Ryan] Zinke to recognize the Florida congressional delegation’s bipartisan efforts to maintain and extend the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and remove this area for future planning purposes,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said.

He echoed the sentiment of two fellow Floridians poised for electoral battle this cycle. Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, both oppose the drilling.

The governors of California, Oregon and Washington issued a joint statement calling the proposal “a political decision” that “flies in the face of decades of strong opposition … from Republicans and Democrats alike.”

They will “do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action,” the three governors said.

Zinke, the Interior secretary, said he would maintain an open channel of communication, repeatedly reminding media on a call Thursday afternoon that the draft proposal was the first step in a long process. The five-year plan would take effect in 2019.

A former Montana congressman, Zinke said he was open to hearing from all stakeholders, including members of Congress and governors. But he has worked to lay the groundwork for eastern Gulf drilling for most of his first year in charge of Interior. He launched a working group with Defense Department officials to address issues related to interference with military exercises, and he lobbied against a potential amendment to the defense authorization bill from Nelson that would have extended the moratorium on offshore leasing on Florida’s Gulf Coast an extra five years.

After an initial public comment period starting Jan. 16, the Interior Department will release another proposal, followed by a second comment period, according to a news release. The department must also prepare an environmental impact statement.

— Jeremy Dillon contributed to this report.

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