Governor stresses opposition to oil drilling

Fri, 02/09/2018 - 9:15am

On a scale of one to 10 in terms of impact and concern, Gov. Gina Raimondo said that the prospect of oil and gas drilling off the coast of Rhode Island rated a “10.”

Raimondo spoke to The Block Island Times this week to reiterate her objections to the proposal, which became the official policy of the federal Department of the Interior earlier this year.

“We the people need to push back on the President as strongly as possible,” said Raimondo, referencing President Trump.

When asked how she found out about the new policy, Raimondo said, “I did not find out any differently than anyone else, but when I found out I immediately called [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke. It was a long call with him and I expressed that Rhode Island is opposed to the use of our coastal waters for offshore drilling. I asked him to grant Rhode Island an exemption for our coasts.”

When asked how Zinke reacted, Raimondo said he was non-committal. “He did not say yes or no. He did commit to come to Rhode Island for a meeting,” she said, but noted there has been no follow-through on when that meeting might take place.

The Department of the Interior announced the change in policy concerning off-shore drilling in a Jan. 4 press release.

“U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke today announced the next step for responsibly developing the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for 2019-2024, which proposes to make over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development. By comparison, the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits. In addition, the program proposes the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history,” the press release stated.  

“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks,” said Secretary Zinke. “Today's announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period. Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance."

The plan calls for differing numbers of leases in different geographic areas.

“The Draft Proposed Program (DPP) includes 47 potential lease sales in 25 of the 26 planning areas — 19 sales off the coast of Alaska, 7 in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and 9 in the Atlantic Region. This is the largest number of lease sales ever proposed for the National OCS Program’s five-year lease schedule,” according to the press release issued by the Interior Department.

Almost immediately, the plan was opposed by the Republican Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, and the reaction from the federal government was swift: coastal waters off that state are no longer open to offshore drilling.

“It’s interesting to me that the Republican governor of Florida got an immediate exemption,” said Raimondo. 

All four members of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation, who happen to be Democrats, have voiced opposition to the plan.

Nonetheless, Raimondo said she felt the issue was important enough to transcend party lines.

“To my mind this isn’t about party. This is bigger than party,” she said. “We ought to agree as Rhode Islanders that we’ve got to protect our state, our ocean, our environment, and move toward renewable energy and get away from drilling. I like to think we can agree on that.”

The Bureau Of Ocean Energy Management is holding a hearing on the plan on Feb. 28 from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Marriott Providence Downtown, located on Orms Street.

Raimondo said she felt it was not enough for people to simply attend the meeting. “I would encourage people to come to the meeting and express opposition,” she said.

As for Sec. Zinke promising to come to the state to further discuss the issue, Raimondo said, “I will hold him to his commitment to come to the state.”