by Josh Siegel
April 11, 2018 12:24 PM
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke assured the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday that he plans to scale back his plan to expand offshore leasing in nearly all federal waters, after massive local and state opposition.
“States matter, local voices matter, you matter, and governors matter,” Zinke said, during testimony before the committee on the Department of Interior’s fiscal 2019 budget. “I think I know exactly where everyone sits on both coasts. We are shaping our plan. This is not a rule. This is a plan.”
Members of both parties on the committee had criticized Zinke for his draft plan, and nearly all coastal governors, Republicans and Democrats alike, oppose it.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said his state should be removed from the proposal.
“All members of our congressional delegation have opposed offshore drilling,” Frelinghuysen said. “I understand the administration may have contrary views. I hope in the coming weeks you recognize the concerns many of us have on the East Coast, that we don’t want oil drilling in our neck of the woods.”
Zinke acknowledged there is less industry interest in offshore than onshore natural gas.
“What’s also happening, there is no doubt that drilling offshore is more risky than onshore. Investments are moving onshore to the Permian [shale drilling region], that is less risky,” he said.
He added that drilling in waters off the East Coast is especially challenging.
“Unlike the Gulf Coast, there is no subsea infrastructure,” Zinke said. “You would have to start from scratch.”
In response to complaints from Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., Zinke suggested he would prevent drilling off their state’s coasts.
“I’m sure Maine is going to be very happy with the draft proposal,” Zinke said.
Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage is the only coastal governor to support the original plan.
Zinke expressed similar doubt about offshore prospects on the West Coast, in federal waters of the Pacific Ocean.
“There are little or no resources of oil and gas off Washington or Oregon, and no infrastructure to support the oil and gas industry, and there is passionate opposition to do so,” Zinke said.
He previously declared he plans to exempt drilling off the coast of Florida after Republican Gov. Rick Scott complained.
Democratic critics said Zinke acted prematurely, and arbitrarily, to give Florida reprieve before anyplace else. But Zinke assured Wednesday, as he has in the past, that Florida is not officially “exempt” and the state is “still going through the process.”
“You would have thought I would be applauded by Democrats,” Zinke said of his move to block drilling off Florida’s coast. “They agreed with the policy, but didn’t agree with how I did it.”