37 senators call Zinke offshore drilling plan ‘height of irresponsibility’

Source: Rob Hotakainen, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A group of 37 senators today urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to abandon his plan to open up more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling, calling it “the height of irresponsibility.”

“This draft proposal is an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry,” the senators wrote.

Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley led the letter, joined by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and 35 other Democrats, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Zinke announced the Trump administration’s new five-year plan Thursday, saying it would make the U.S. “the strongest energy superpower.”

The proposal would replace the current five-year plan finalized last January under the Obama administration and scheduled to run through 2022 (Greenwire, Jan. 4).

The plan calls for scheduling 47 lease sales from 2019 to 2024, which Zinke called the largest number of lease sales ever proposed for the National OCS Program’s five-year schedule.

It would include 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic region.

Zinke’s move came less than a week after the Trump team proposed weakening rules on offshore drilling safety equipment, saying they create an unnecessary burden for industry.

In their letter, the senators said the new plan would put “vast stretches of coastline along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and in the Arctic at risk.”

“We should not open all previously closed outer continental shelf areas to fossil fuel extraction and further endanger our climate, coastlines, communities, and economies,” the senators told Zinke.

“Especially in the harsh and fragile Arctic, where your agency has predicted a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill, proposing 19 new leases is the height of irresponsibility.”

In addition to Merkley, Sanders and Schumer, the letter was signed by Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey, Bill Nelson of Florida, Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin of Maryland, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Both of Maine’s senators — Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King — wrote a separate letter to Zinke yesterday, announcing their opposition (E&E Daily, Jan. 9).

They said drilling off the coast of the state could damage fisheries and lobster populations, threatening “to harm not only the environment but the state’s economy as well.”