Only one Atlantic Coast governor has supported opening up the region to offshore drilling

Maine Gov. Paul LePage has expressed support for offshore oil and gas exploration off the coast of his state. CREDIT: Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The Trump administration’s extreme new proposal to open virtually all federal waters to drilling landed with a thud among lawmakers from both parties. In fact, Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is the only Atlantic Coast governor who has said he favors offshore oil and gas drilling.

A strong ally of President Donald Trump, LePage’s support for offshore drilling matches his positions on other environmental and energy issues. Throughout his six years in office, LePage has consistently opposed policies that promote renewable energy in Maine. He also urged the Trump administration earlier this year to eliminate a national monument designation in his state.

Other Maine Republicans are opposing the administration’s offshore drilling plan. On Friday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), called the Department of the Interior’s proposal to expand offshore drilling off of Maine’s coast a “significant risk” to the state’s coastal economy and ecology. Maine’s two House members — Reps. Bruce Poliquin (R) and Chellie Pingree (D) — also oppose drilling off the state’s coast.

Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, told the Banger Daily News that seafood harvesting and tourism would be under threat from offshore drilling because “where there is drilling there is spilling.”

“Mainers understand that their future — their economic and quality-of-life futures — depend upon clean oceans and clean beaches, and are vehemently opposed to opening the Gulf of Maine and the North Atlantic to oil and gas drilling,” Glen Brand of Sierra Club Maine said in an interview with the Portland Press Herald.

Governors in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina have come out against opening waters off their coasts to oil and gas drilling. Leaders in other states along the Atlantic Coast have not publicly expressed support for opening offshore waters to drilling but have not come out with a statement against the Trump’s administration’s plan.

The Interior Department released a new five-year drilling plan on Thursday that Secretary Ryan Zinke said would open 90 percent of the nation’s offshore areas to leasing. That includes vast areas off the East Coast from Georgia to Maine that been blocked from oil and gas exploration for decades. The plan also includes 19 lease sales off the coast of Alaska, seven in the Pacific region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic region.

Source: Department of the Interior

In 2015, LePage became the first Northeastern governor to join the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition in support of expanded offshore drilling. As the Interior Department was preparing the five-year offshore leasing plan, the coalition sent the department a letter expressing its support for keeping all leasing options open.

“The OCS Governors Coalition believes it is prudent to include all leasing options in the Draft Proposed Program, understanding that circumstances affecting leasing decisions could change during the course of the program’s development and implementation,” LePage and the governors of Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and Alaska wrote in an August 2017 letter to Zinke. “Access to offshore energy resources will allow coastal states and communities to realize great economic opportunities.”

Another strong Trump supporter, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), broke ranks with the administration and came out against the offshore drilling plan. In a statement announcing his opposition, Scott said his priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.

LePage has remained consistent in his anti-environment stances. He has opposed efforts to increase energy efficiency, moved to opt out of anti-smog regulations, vetoed a bill creating a climate adaptation working group, and agreed with a radio talk show host that climate science a “hoax” and “lying science,” before touting the benefits that climate change will have on Maine.

In 2016, LePage also waged an attack on the Natural Resources Council of Maine by sending personal letters to the environmental group’s donors. “I would request that you carefully review NRCM’s policy positions before donating to them in the future,” the governor wrote in the letters. “It is an activist group that says ‘no’ to every opportunity to allow Mainers to prosper.”