Metro, News

Politicians, students respond to Trump’s offshore drilling plans

Lawmakers introduce bill to block offshore drilling three miles from coast, community pushes back

Staff Writer
Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Trump administration announced a new oil drilling proposal in early January that could open 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters for oil drilling, including coastal waters in Rhode Island.

Since United States Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced the Trump administration’s new National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program in early January, the outcry has been swift and persistent, both from the public and private sector. If implemented, the proposal could open 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters for oil drilling, including coastal waters in Rhode Island. Gov. Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, officials from the Rhode Island state legislature and R.I. congressional leaders have all made appeals to Sec. Zinke to stop the proposal. Students from the University have also called for the leasing program to be changed.

State Rep. Lauren Carson (D-Newport) and state Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Newport, Jamestown) introduced identical legislation (H7250 and S2116) after the proposal was made public that would block offshore drilling up to three miles off of Rhode Island’s coast, according to Rhode Island Public Radio. The bill would act as a deterrent for companies that might want to drill off of Rhode Island’s coast and would block the construction of “infrastructure passing through state waters for the purpose of transporting any oil or gas generated by any offshore drilling program into this state.” Similar to Florida Governor Rick Scott, Raimondo sought to convince Sec. Zinke to exempt Rhode Island from offshore drilling and met with him Feb. 25. “(Raimondo) emphasized that Rhode Islanders won’t stand for oil drilling in our waters and called for the same type of exemption as was granted to Florida,” wrote Josh Block, press secretary for Raimondo, in an email to The Herald. Sec. Zinke denied the exemption, but Raimondo “made it clear she will continue fighting for one,” Block added.

Separately Kilmartin, along with attorney generals from 12 other states, wrote a letter to Sec. Zinke in an attempt to convince him to reverse the decision. In the letter, Kilmartin stated that Rhode Island’s tourism and fishing industries would be put at risk if companies were to engage in drilling. Kilmartin also formally submitted remarks on behalf of R.I. through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is in charge of leasing policy for the Outer Continental Shelf. “Rhode Island … and all coastal communities benefit greatly from the preservation and protection of our natural resources. Allowing drilling for oil and gas will be detrimental to our economy and our quality of life,” Kilmartin wrote in the letter.

Congressman David Cicilline ’83 (D-Providence), along with representatives from other New England states, sponsored the New England Coastal Protection Act to oppose the administration’s decision. The act would permanently ban offshore drilling off those states’ coasts. “Rhode Islanders should get to decide what happens off the coast of Rhode Island, not (Trump’s) administration,” Cicilline said. He hopes that the efforts of the New England delegation, coupled with the efforts of state legislatures, will ultimately change Sec. Zinke’s mind. But Cicilline said it will be extremely difficult to bring the bill to a vote due to the Republican stronghold on Congress.

Non-profit organizations like the Conservation Law Foundation are also working to oppose BOEM’s proposal. Vice President and Director of CLF Rhode Island Amy Moses said the foundation is willing to take the matter to court. “CLF has been fighting against offshore drilling for forty years, and we had to take it to court forty years ago so it could happen again,” she said. Moses stressed that, instead of offshore drilling, the administration should focus on renewable energy sources. Moses highlighted other environmental impacts of offshore drilling, including species endangerment, specifically of the north Atlantic right whale.

“It makes absolutely no sense. In general, the drilling offshore puts our wildlife, fisheries, our tourism industry and our coastal economies all at risk,” Moses said.

Students from the University have also expressed their outrage at the decision. Lauren Maunus ’19, a member of the Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition, attended an event Feb. 28 hosted by BOEM to hear comments from citizens. “Instead of facilitating a discussion where (BOEM) would listen to the voice of the people … they set up tables and they had computers up for people to submit public comment through an online submissions and nothing else,” Maunus said.

When organizers from Climate Action Rhode Island, a political action group that advocates for environmental protections, heard about BOEM’s plans to hold a hearing, about 150 to 200 people came and organized their own hearing, Maunus said. “I think it was a really effective action that generated a lot of public attention,” she added.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Amy Moses is vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation. In fact, she is vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation Rhode Island. The Herald regrets the error.