Wilmington Star News
January 10, 2018
By Adam Wagner GateHouse Media
Trump administration appears to have already removed Florida from plan
WILMINGTON — Citing local pushback and a burgeoning tourism economy, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced Tuesday that he would remove a state from the now-under-review Trump administration’s offshore drilling plan.
That state was Florida, not North Carolina, where more than 30 municipalities have opposed either seismic testing or offshore drilling, and coastal tourism generates about $3 billion annually.
Now, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper and environmentalists are wondering if the Old North State will be afforded a similar chance to be removed from the plan, which opens up exploration off the coast of every state but — possibly — Florida between 2019 and 2024.
“Just as you acknowledge in removing Florida, offshore drilling threatens tourism, which is a vital economic driver,” Cooper wrote in a letter to Zinke. “The same holds true for North Carolina.”
Cooper has asked to meet or have a phone call with the secretary soon to discuss how drilling and seismic testing could impact the state’s coastal communities. The request came hours after South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said he plans to ask the Trump Administration for a similar exemption, according to the Charleston Post and Courier.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) said Wednesday they are not sure if Zinke’s announcement is legally enforceable.
“It’s almost as if the Trump administration doesn’t realize there is a legal structure surrounding what they’re supposed to be doing,” said Sierra Weaver, an SELC senior attorney.
In previous considerations of offshore drilling plans, Weaver said, administrations respected states’ request to be removed from the maps. During the current process, Cooper and several other governors made similar requests to be excluded that were not heeded.
Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, said the consideration of Florida should be allowed to move ahead in accordance with the outlined procedure. He also said many across the country rely on the industry for jobs.
“The announcement is premature,” Gerard said in a statement. “Americans support increased domestic energy production, and the administration and policymakers should follow the established process before making any decisions or conclusions that would undermine our nation’s energy security.”
Tom Kies, the president of the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce, said the secretary’s tweeted reasons for removing Florida from the 5-year plan are also applicable to North Carolina.
“Zinke’s absolutely right that tourism is extremely important. It’s an economic driver,” said Kies, who is also vice-chair of the anti-drilling Business Alliance to Protect the Atlantic Coast, adding, “I think you’re going to find all the coastal states are going to push hard on this.”
Randy Sturgill, the Brunswick Couny-based senior campaign organizer for environmental organization Oceana, believes the resolutions and pushback from North Carolina citizens have made the state’s opinion clear.
Public meetings up and down the coast during the most recent five-year plan review were standing room only, and baby blue “Don’t Drill N.C.” signs became common in front of houses and on roadsides throughout the Southeastern part of the state.
“Not only is this a crystal clear stance, but above and beyond the call of what should be needed to pull North Carolina out of this,” he said. “The numbers have been astounding if they’re not hearing the cries from North Carolina and its citizens, they’re just not listening.”