Senate Democrats introduce bill to preserve 2017-22 OCS program

US Senate Democrats introduced a bill on Apr. 27 to preserve the 2017-22 Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas program a day before President Donald J. Trump was expected to issue an executive order for it to be reviewed, and a day after congressional Republicans introduced bills that would direct Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review moratoria and future leasing schedules.

US Senate Democrats introduced a bill on Apr. 27 to preserve the 2017-22 Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas program a day before President Donald J. Trump was expected to issue an executive order for it to be reviewed, and a day after congressional Republicans introduced bills that would direct Sec. of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review moratoria and future leasing schedules (OGJ Online, Apr. 27, 2017).

“Our immediate goal is to protect the 5-year plan,” sponsor Edward J. Markey (Mass.) said at a press conference with Sens. Robert Menendez (NJ), Bill Nelson (Fla.), and Richard Blumenthal (Conn.). “We think we’ll be on strong legal ground. There will be an army of environmental lawyers ready to take the Trump administration to court.” Nineteen other Democrats and Independent Bernie Sanders (Vt.) are cosponsors.

Twenty-seven senators have signed a letter to the president, urging him to not revise existing protections or the 5-year OCS program, he told reporters. “Opening the East Coast to oil drilling would threaten ever state from Maine to Florida,” Markey said.

Menendez said, “I never expected we’d be visiting the 5-year plan 6 months later. Many people don’t know that if these offshore areas are opened up to Big Oil, the initial drilling costs will be paid by the American people, who will see money siphoned from education and other programs.”

An offshore oil spill could threaten coastal property valued at more than $700 billion in New Jersey alone, Menendez said. “We think the plan shouldn’t be reopened. It went through years of vetting and public hearings. It shouldn’t simply be jettisoned.”

Bill Nelson (Fla.) said as a US House member in the 1980s, he had to remind then-Interior Sec. James G. Watt that it would be a bad idea to issue federal oil leases off Florida’s east coast because space flights often dropped spent rocket stages in waters there.

Referring to the 2010 Macondo deepwater well blowout that cost 11 workers’ lives and spilled more than 3.2 million bbl of crude into the Gulf of Mexico that fouled several Gulf Coast states’ beaches, Nelson asked, “How many more of these disasters do we have to go through before we realize there are tradeoffs that aren’t worth the tradeoffs?”

“Unless we fight now, Big Oil will be right off our beaches which are such a big source of tourism dollars,” warned Richard Blumenthal (Conn.). “Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp in Washington, but the multi-headed monster that’s Big Oil is emerging and threaten to turn our coasts into a worse swamp.”

“While we’re promoting legislation, there are other ways, such as appropriations, to get this administration’s attention,” said Menendez, who added that he plans to reintroduce his bill to permanently close the Pacific, Atlantic, and Alaska OCS to oil and gas activity.

Blumenthal said, “The mere fact that one president acted without a significant legal challenge to protect our coasts doesn’t mean that another president can reverse that decision.”

Markey concluded, “When you hear President Trump invoke national security tomorrow, remember that producing this oil off our beaches doesn’t necessarily mean it will stay in the US.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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