US Senate Democrats give floor speeches against draft 2019-24 OCS plan

Nine US Senate Democrats and Independent Angus E. King (Me.) emphasized potential adverse impacts to existing coastal economies as they delivered Feb. 6 floor speeches against the US Department of the Interior’s draft proposed 2019-24 US Outer Continental Shelf management program.

Nine US Senate Democrats and Independent Angus E. King (Me.) emphasized potential adverse impacts to existing coastal economies as they delivered Feb. 6 floor speeches against the US Department of the Interior’s draft proposed 2019-24 US Outer Continental Shelf management program.

“The truth is that instead of creating new jobs in the oil and gas sector, the [Trump] administration is poised to choose Big Oil jobs over other ocean-dependent industries like fishing, shipbuilding, and tourism on our coasts,” Energy and Natural Resources Committee Ranking Minority Member Maria E. Cantwell (Wash.) said.

Washington’s ocean-related economy is so important to the state that expanding oil and gas activity into its coastal waters would threaten to ocean environment and marine resources that support millions of construction, fishing, tourism, recreation, and marine transport jobs, Cantwell said.

“These ocean-related industries contribute more than 2.2 million direct jobs, nearly $75 billion in wages, and over $150 billion in [gross domestic product],” Cantwell said. “The economic benefits of these industries cannot be overstated: nearly $8 billion from fishing and seafood, nearly $70 billion from marine transport, and over $125 billion from tourism and recreation.”

Sen. Thomas E. Carper (Del.) noted that at 25-30 miles, his state’s coast is not particularly long. But its businesses there generate almost $7 billion/year of income, support nearly 60,000 jobs in a state with not quite 1 million people, and contribute $711 million in taxes to a state with an $4-billion annual budget, he said.

Not just Delawareans, Democrats

“It is not just Delawareans or even Democrats who acknowledge that increased oil drilling off our coasts is the wrong move,” Carper said. “Republican Governors and lawmakers from states such as Georgia and South Carolina—and all the way up to Massachusetts and New Hampshire—have publicly stated their opposition to the Trump administration’s plan because the risks are simply not worth the potential reward.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ) said that each year, the Garden State’s tourism industry generates $44 billion in economic activity, directly and indirectly supporting nearly 10% of the state’s workforce. “Likewise, our seafood industry supports more than 31,000 jobs, and we are home to one of America’s largest saltwater recreational fisheries, supporting over 16,000 jobs. Together, the homes and businesses along the Jersey Shore encompass almost $800 billion in property values,” he said.

“All of this adds up to a simple reality: Clean coasts are vital to the economic security of millions of New Jerseyans. The same holds true for towns up and down the Atlantic shoreline,” Menendez declared. “Yet the Trump administration plans to ignore the concern of the communities that have the most to lose. They ignore the more than 120 municipalities, the 1,200 elected officials, the 41,000 businesses, and the 500,000 fishing families from up and down the East Coast who voiced their opposition the last time oil and gas drilling was considered.”

King, Maine’s Independent senator, said, “In my view, this is a pretty straightforward decision. What are the benefits, and what are the costs? The benefits are speculative at best, limited at best, and the costs are immediate and an enormous challenge for us. The cost of a single incident along our coast, which would affect our lobster industry or our visitor industry in the summertime and in the spring and the fall, would be catastrophic for our state.”

Military considerations

Declaring that he was “here again to talk about the mess that has been created by the 5-year drilling plan,” Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) said that problems go beyond potential damage to coastal economies from a crude oil spill, particularly in Florida which has more miles of coastal beaches than any other states near which many military flight tests and maneuvers take place.

“Indeed, just today, the largest rocket since the Apollo program to the Moon has brought back two of its boosters that didn’t have to fall into the ocean,” he said. “But some may, and you simply cannot have oil rigs out there in the Atlantic where we are testing our military rockets, such as today as a commercial rocket, the Falcon Heavy, dropped its initial stages.”

Nelson said that similar situations exist with the US military on the West Coast. “The largest testing and training area for the US military in the world is the eastern Gulf of Mexico off of Florida. That is why it is off-limits in law for another 5 years, until 2022, and we need to expand that,” he said.

Sens. Edward J. Markey (Mass.), Ronald L. Wyden (Ore.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) also strongly criticized the proposed draft 2019-24 OCS program which DOI introduced early last month (OGJ Online, Jan. 4, 2018).

“The risks would be run by states that don’t want the drilling, and the benefits all would run to the oil companies that get to sell this oil around the world,” Markey said. “It makes perfect sense because ‘GOP’ really stands for ‘gas and oil party.’ That is what they have turned themselves into. It is whatever Big Oil wants, even if state after state after state says it does not want this to happen.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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