WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) joined Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in urging the Trump administration to back off recently-announced plans to reopen offshore drilling leases around the U.S. This move could potentially jeopardize coastal economies and the environment along the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic Oceans.
On June 29, President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced that they are reopening the Interior Department’s 2017-2022 offshore drilling plan, which was finalized last year. The existing offshore drilling plan, which protects the Arctic Ocean and Atlantic and Pacific Coasts from drilling, was formulated after extensive public input—including more than one million public comments.
“We are writing to express our extreme concern over your agency’s proposed revision of the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program,” the Senators said in a letter to Secretary Zinke. “We believe the existing program correctly excludes areas from the leasing program that pose significant environmental, economic, and cultural risk, as well as face strong community opposition. We urge you to maintain the protections and exclusions outlined in the current 2017-2022 Program.”
In the letter, the Senators detailed the beaches, fragile ecosystems, and existing economic activity—including tourism, recreation, and commercial fishing—that could be devastated by offshore drilling and potential oil spills.
“We strongly oppose any effort to reopen this program to expand leases in these areas over the opposition of the impacted communities and the scientific consensus,” the Senators concluded. “We urge you to keep the 2017-2022 program in place.”
In addition to Cardin, Van Hollen, Markey, and Merkley, the letter was signed by Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Al Franken (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).
The full text of the letter follows below:
Dear Secretary Zinke:
We are writing to express our extreme concern over your agency’s proposed revision of the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. We believe the existing program correctly excludes areas from the leasing program that pose significant environmental, economic, and cultural risk, as well as face strong community opposition. We urge you to maintain the protections and exclusions outlined in the current 2017-2022 Program.
The Department of Interior spent over three years and incorporated over one million public comments in developing the final 2017-2022 Program. It is unclear what new scientific evidence you anticipate discovering in the 45-day window your agency has allotted for public comment that was not previously known and analyzed. At a time when the Administration has proposed a 12% cut to your agency’s budget, it is especially concerning that you would expend the time, personnel, and resources to revise a plan that is current through 2022 without a scientific justification. We strongly oppose this effort, and urge you to maintain the current 2017-2022 Program.
Specifically, the current program excludes leases in the Arctic Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, off the Pacific Coast and in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. Your agency has thoroughly documented the risks of exploration in the Arctic Ocean, as well as the critical ecosystem functions, fragile ecology, and dependence of local communities on subsistence hunting and fishing that would be jeopardized in the likely event of an oil spill. Allowing oil and gas drilling off the East Coast would threaten the tourism and fishing economies, beaches and coastlines of those states. Indeed, since 2015, municipal governments on the East Coast passed over 120 bipartisan resolutions opposing drilling in the Atlantic. Similarly, every Senator along the West Coast has sought to protect the nearly 650,000 jobs in the fishing, tourism, and recreation industries and the $44 billion coastal economy from the impacts of offshore drilling. In the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Department of Defense has repeatedly expressed support for an extension of the existing moratorium in order to protect the critical testing and training range there.
Given the time and public input devoted to the final 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, we strongly oppose any effort to reopen this program to expand leases in these areas over the opposition of the impacted communities and the scientific consensus. We urge you to keep the 2017-2022 program in place.
We look forward to working with you on this important issue.