COMMENTARY: Time to ‘restore sanity to federal energy policies’

Fights over oil and gas exploration and production off the coasts of Delaware and New Jersey (sometimes called the Outer Continental Shelf) are nothing new — they go back decades. But, as he’s so good at, President Trump is converting a simmering issue into an crisis that urgently needs public resistance.

It began with his Executive Order 13795 of April 28, 2017, “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

“It shall be the policy of the United States to encourage energy exploration and production, including on the Outer Continental Shelf ….”

“Develop and implement, in coordination with the Secretary of Commerce and to the maximum extent permitted by law, a streamlined permitting approach for privately funded seismic data research and collection aimed at expeditiously determining the offshore energy resource potential of the United States within the Planning Areas.”

“The Secretary of Commerce shall, unless expressly required otherwise, refrain from designating or expanding any National Marine Sanctuary under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act ….”

In line with these sorts of drill-at-any-cost policies, on Jan. 4, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a draft report “2019–2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil And Gas Leasing Draft Proposed Program.”

Option 1: Three sales in the Mid-and South Atlantic program areas in 2020, 2022, and 2024; two sales in the North Atlantic Program Area in 2021 and 2023; and one sale in the Straits of Florida Program Area in 2023.

Option 2: Option 1 with the exclusion of the Atlantic Canyons in the North Atlantic and Mid-Atlantic program areas, identified as having exceptional ecological values.

Option 3: Option 1 with coastal buffer(s) to accommodate concerns such as military use, fish and marine mammal migration, and other nearshore uses.

Opposition is widespread. The governors of states opposing offshore drilling on their coasts include New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon, Washington, New York, and Florida. So far only Florida has been exempted.

Of course, aside from the threat to coastlines from spills and leaks, degraded viewscapes, and so on, there is the central underlying reality of climate change and the need to reduce, rather than increase, production of hydrocarbon fuels.

In a previous cycle called a Request for Information, BOEM received about 815,000 comments, of which only about 14 percent were in favor.

Now, “public engagement” is again part of the picture and public meetings are being held.

“Public meetings will take place across the country using an open-house format, so participants can arrive any time during the scheduled meeting time. At the meetings, participants can ask questions, share information, talk with our team members one-on-one, and learn more about the National OCS Program. We also encourage participants to submit written comments to inform BOEM of specific issues, impacting factors, environmental resources, alternatives to the proposed action, and mitigation measures to consider in its analyses,” BOEM reports.

“For those unable to attend one of the scheduled meetings, BOEM is offering a Virtual Meeting Room where participants can visit the same stations available at the open house meetings. There they are able to review and download the same handouts and posters offered at the meetings and provide comments.”

What this means is that there will not be the public testimony that allows people to hear each others’ concerns, and build solidarity. Rather, there will posters on display and one-on-one conversations.

A meeting is set for today at Holiday Inn, 561 N. Dupont Highway, Dover, from 3 to 7 p.m. Other meetings are being held around the country.

Comment can also be sent online to https://www.boem.gov/Submitting-Comments/. The public comment period closes March 18.

All the federal agencies have been handed over to the industries they are supposed to be regulating. They know the public does not want offshore drilling and they know why. Remember the 800.000 comments! Offshore drilling can’t actually start for a few years, so there is time to get rid of Trump and restore sanity to federal energy policies.

This starts with kicking up a fuss. Go to the “public meetings” if you can. Since public statements will be curtailed by the format, take banners, signs, fish costumes.

Gov. Carney and DNREC have been clear in their opposition to offshore drilling. Sen. Tom Carper issued a statement of opposition. Carper and Coons signed onto a Senate opposition letter. Lisa Blunt-Rochester issued a statement. Not much has been heard so far from the General Assembly, nor from local governments in Delaware.

So, aside from sending in comments and attending the BOEM “public meetings,” you can urge your state senator and representative to sponsor a resolution of opposition, and urge your local and county government, if you have one, to take a stand.

Alan Muller is executive director of Green Delaware

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