State lawmakers from nine states introduced bills Jan. 8 aimed at blocking oil and gas drilling off their coasts, and a group of House Democrats meanwhile unveiled measures that would ban drilling in federal waters off much of the country.
The congressional bills would put a moratorium or permanently prohibit drilling in the Straits of Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic Coast, the West Coast and the Arctic Ocean.
The legislation would likely get a chilly reception in the Republican-controlled Senate, as it runs counter to the promotion of fossil fuel development by the White House.
The White House has a draft proposal to open lease sales in 98 percent of the federal offshore from 2019 to 2024. Environmental groups said they expect a final version in the coming weeks. The Trump administration has said it wants to wrap up the plan by the end of 2019.
The state lawmakers’ bills can’t stop the Trump administration from opening up oil and gas leasing in federal waters, which begin three nautical miles off the coast.
Instead, they are aimed largely at stopping development of state-based infrastructure that would be needed to transport the fuel back to land.
“If we paired up with Massachusetts and New Hampshire, which we are doing, that’s going to cause a company to travel all the way down to North Carolina or even Florida,” state Rep. Michael G. Devin (D-Maine) said during a press call. “It makes it cost-prohibitive. It also sends a very strong message to the federal government that the three states in the Northeast are not interested in offshore drilling in the Gulf of Maine. And hopefully a similar message is being sent all around the coasts.”
State legislators from Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island said the costs of drilling off their shores far outweigh any potential benefits.
Congressional Democrats Propose Halt
Seven U.S. House Democrats from coastal states introduced bills to block drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. The Democrats who introduced the bills include House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and the chairman of the just-created House select climate committee, Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.).
Others introducing bills in the package, all Democrats, are Reps. Alan Lowenthal (Calif.), Joe Cunningham (S.C.), Salud Carbajal (Calif.), David Cicilline (R.I.), Jared Huffman (Calif.), A. Donald McEachin (Va.), and Elaine Luria (Va.).
“The bills introduced today by members of the House show definitively that new leadership is appropriately prioritizing the protection of our coasts, national parks and local communities,” Natalie Levine, National Parks Conservation Association program manager for parks resource protection, said in a statement.
Range of State Policy Proposals
Some of the state lawmakers trying to stop federal oil and gas leasing, such as state Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D-Mass.) and state Sen. Dawn Euer (D-R.I.), said offshore drilling will hurt their commercial fishing and tourism industries.
Each of the nine state bills is different, offering fixes that range from an outright ban on drilling in state waters to the imposition of strict liability on responsible parties in case of an offshore oil spill.
The oil and gas industry says it’s safer and cleaner now than it has ever been, and that domestic energy is a critical part of the nation’s economic growth and security.
“As the world’s leading natural gas and oil producer, our nation is in a position of strength, after decades of feeling captive to faraway events and the decisions of others,” Mike Sommers, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said Jan. 8.
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