State legislators across the country are mounting a bipartisan effort to block President Donald Trump’s controversial offshore drilling efforts, introducing a series of bills intended to challenge the federal government’s embrace of expanding fossil fuel exploration offshore. The move coincides with national efforts in the House of Representatives to similarly oppose offshore drilling.
On a call Tuesday, lawmakers from nine coastal states announced a range of legislative offerings targeting the widely-panned Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program. Legislators from Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island all took part in the announcement in conjunction with the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators (NCEL).
As of 2019, all states on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts have united in opposition to offshore drilling. Only one East Coast state, Maine, remained a hold-out under the leadership of Gov. Paul LePage (R). But LePage has been replaced with Democrat Janet Mills, who has vowed to fight climate change and stand against offshore drilling — making opposition unanimous on both coasts.
The final offshore drilling plan from the Interior Department had been expected early this year, but its release has been delayed thanks to the ongoing federal government shutdown, now in its third week. Lawmakers aren’t waiting, however, and are working instead to push through bills at the state and national level in an effort to head off the Trump administration.
Singling fossil fuels out as a leading contributor to climate change as well as a threat to coastal economies, officials emphasized their commitment to targeting offshore drilling in the upcoming legislative season.
“When we’re talking about this issue, a lot of people mention climate change as this future problem,” said Rhode Island State Senator Dawn Euer (D). “But climate change isn’t coming, climate change is here.”
Bills set to be introduced range in their approach to targeting offshore drilling, with lawmakers largely working to enact bans in their states on oil and gas offshore infrastructure.
In Georgia, where laws opposing coastal drilling have met with resistance, State Rep. Park Cannon (D) indicated that one of her efforts targeting drilling would focus on the $250,000 “finder’s fee” in the state rewarding those who find oil in its waters.
Maine State Rep. Mike Devin (D) meanwhile said that he had drafted a bill to prohibit all oil and gas drilling off the state’s coast. “All stakeholders have expressed their concern [over] offshore drilling,” said Devin, referencing both residents and political leadership in coastal states.
Under the five year OCS leasing plan proposed by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, along with the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s waters, would all be opened to drilling.
States notably only have so much say in offshore drilling decisions, as their control only extends three miles offshore. But legislators hope their efforts will send a signal to the Trump administration underscoring resistance to its policies, in addition to hindering drilling and making it more challenging.
“The Trump administration’s decision to open offshore drilling off the coast of Massachusetts could devastate the tourism and fishing industries that drive our state’s vibrant blue economy,” said Massachusetts State Rep. Dylan Fernandes (D), who argued that “the future of energy” lies in “clean, renewable sources.”
Several officials moreover repeatedly emphasized the bipartisan nature of the opposition, with an emphasis on the economic risks associated with drilling.
Resistance to offshore drilling has been gaining momentum for some time. Many states have moved to protect their state-controlled waters since 2017, when former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to open up virtually all federal waters to drilling.
New Jersey introduced the nation’s most sweeping ban on offshore drilling in April of last year with a bill that gave more power to the state’s environmental agency in addition to banning both drilling and related infrastructure construction. California followed with its own efforts to restrict offshore drilling in September, blocking the construction of new oil drilling-related infrastructure. Delaware banned offshore drilling in July, while Maryland imposed liability on offshore oil spills. In November, Florida also voted to constitutionally ban offshore drilling.
But opposition to offshore drilling isn’t being left just to state-level politicians. National efforts targeting offshore drilling are also underway.
Also on Tuesday, seven House Democrats announced several bills intended to target coastal drilling ambitions. They include legislative pushes to protect areas along both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. One bill, sponsored by North Carolina Republican Walter B. Jones and Virginia Democrats Donald McEachin and Elaine Luria, would effectively ban oil and gas drilling and exploration off the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.
“Offshore drilling is a direct threat to my district. It has the potential to hurt our environment, our military, and our economy,” said Luria in a statement.
This follows news on Monday that South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson joined a host of cities, states, and environmental groups suing the Trump administration over seismic testing for oil and gas off the Atlantic Coast.
Wilson is the first Republican to join the lawsuit, reflecting growing discontentment from coastal members of the president’s party. The attorney general argued that seismic testing would severely harm the marine life residents rely on “for their economic livelihoods.”