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Friday, March 2, 2018

United front against drilling off the Rhode Island coast

Public officials, environmental and civic groups oppose Trump plan

Image result for Ocean drilling & Rhode IslandThe Environment Council of Rhode Island held a press conference on February 28 at the Rhode Island State House featuring comments from elected officials, state leaders from the fishing industry, and the environmental community to discuss efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to oppose the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) proposal to lift the long-standing ban on offshore fossil fuel drilling in large swaths of US coastal waters.

Governor Gina Raimondo (D), who has requested the Secretary of Interior exempt Rhode Island from the decision to lift the offshore drilling ban, said: “We should be focusing on harnessing our offshore wind power – not digging for oil off our coast. The proposal that came out of Washington in January to open up our coastal waters to offshore drilling is terrifying. We’ve seen what happens when drilling goes wrong. It’s resulted in terrible environmental tragedies like Exxon Valdez and the BP oil spill. We can’t take that risk in Rhode Island.”

Senator Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Middletown) and Representative Lauren Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport) have introduced companion bills in the State Senate and House of Representatives to prohibit offshore oil and gas drilling activities in state waters (S-2116 and H-7250). “As the Ocean State, Rhode Island has a robust blue sector economy including ship building, fishing, sailing, tourism and more. The state and our institutions have invested incredible resources on forward-thinking coastal policy initiatives. Opening up coastal waters to offshore drilling is short-sighted and puts our economy at great risk,” said Senator Euer.

Representative Carson said: “Offshore drilling for oil in Rhode Island would inhibit and endanger some of the industries that are part of the bedrock of our economy in Rhode Island, and particularly in Newport. It would also erode the progress we’ve made cleaning up Narragansett Bay and developing sustainable, clean energy sources, such as Deepwater Wind, the nation’s first offshore wind farm. This is nothing but a gift to big oil corporations, and we simply cannot let it happen off Rhode Island.”

Mayor Scott Avedesian (R-Warwick) said: "With 39 miles of coastline, Warwick is well aware of the fragile nature of our coastal environment.  We will oppose any action that threatens the pristine beauty of our shoreline and our coast.  The number of jobs that are created and sustained through Narragansett Bay have a major impact on this community and we will do all necessary to protect and preserve this resource.  Offshore drilling is a threat to the Bay."

Fred Mattera, a retired 40-year commercial fisherman from Point Judith and former owner/captain of the F/V Travis & Natalie said: "Rhode Island commercial fisherman have endured economic hardship for the past two decades rebuilding fish stocks to sustainable levels. Presently we are benefitting from the return of healthy and robust fish stocks. Allowing offshore drilling raises the possibility of an oil spill causing devastation to the ecosystem and destroying the present level of fish stocks, posing economic havoc on the fishing industry."

Amy Moses, Vice-president and Director of Conservation Law Foundation Rhode Island said: “Opening New England’s waters for drilling is reckless and irresponsible. Not only are these waters home to critically important fish and whale species, our region needs to move away from fossil fuels. New England is already feeling the staggering effects of climate change — changing ocean conditions chasing fish away and jeopardizing lobster and scallop populations. Adding drilling and oil spills to the mix shoves us in the wrong direction. We need to protect this precious resource from the dirty, destructive business of oil drilling, and CLF will fight to protect this precious resources every step of the way.”

Johnathan Berard, Rhode Island State Director at Clean Water Action said: "The Trump administration's decision to open New England's waters to offshore drilling is completely out of touch with reality as well as a giveaway to corporate polluters that puts Rhode Island's coastal communities at risk. Offshore drilling sacrifices our fisheries, waters, and beaches and it increases our addiction to fossil fuels when we should instead be charging forward on clean energy sources like wind and solar."

Lawrence Taft, Executive Director of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, said: "Offshore drilling and exploration increases opportunities for oil spills affecting Rhode Island’s critical coastal areas. We remember the birds and other wildlife severely impacted by the World Prodigy spill off Newport in 1989 and the North Cape spill in 1996 and never want to see this happen again."

John Torgan, State Director for The Nature Conservancy, said: “TNC takes a science-based approach to this issue nationwide, identifying essential habitats and species of concern, and working to elevate protection for those areas. The coastal waters off Rhode Island are already the foundation of our economy, our culture, and our history. We are opposed to new oil and gas leasing throughout the Northeast Planning Area.”

Jonathan Stone, Executive Director at Save The Bay, said: "The risks associated with oil and gas exploration and production threaten the extraordinary marine resources we and our community members have fought so hard to protect for the last half century. Rhode Islanders have invested  hundreds of millions of dollars over decades to clean up and protect our Bay and coast. Why should we put that investment, and New England's thriving coastal economy and extraordinary natural resources at risk?"

Justin Boyan, co-founder and Vice-president of Climate Action RI / 350 RI , said: "BOEM's public meeting today is a sham: no high-ranking officials present, no expert testimony allowed, no opportunity for the public to speak. This administration should know that we Rhode Islanders will relentlessly defend not only our coast and our climate, but also our right to be heard."

State and local resistance to offshore drilling buttresses similar efforts on the federal level. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and U.S. Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) earlier this year introduced the New England Coastal Protection Act, which would permanently prohibit drilling for fossil fuel fuels off the New England coast. 

This bipartisan legislation was co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Jack White (D-RI) and U.S. Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI).  

“The Ocean State will not go backwards after decades of investing in our world-class ports, a cleaner Narragansett Bay, and offshore wind energy,” said Senator Whitehouse.  

“Rhode Islanders are speaking out against President Trump’s proposed giveaway to big oil and gas companies because we remember the economic and environmental destruction from the North Cape oil spill, and the World Prodigy accident before that.  For the sake of everyone who works and lives along the Bay, we will stand together to prevent President Trump from allowing fossil fuel corporations to damage Rhode Island’s most important natural resource.”

Congressman Cicilline said: “The Trump administration’s decision to open Rhode Island waters to offshore drilling jeopardizes the natural beauty of our coastline as well as the economic well-being of tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who earn a living in the fishing, tourism and marine industries, among others. That’s why I introduced legislation to block the expansion of offshore drilling in New England waters. I am extraordinarily grateful that every single member of New England’s Congressional Delegation is supporting this important legislation, and I urge everyone who cares about protecting Rhode Island’s coastline to speak up and make their voice heard.”

Congressman Langevin said: “The President’s reckless proposal to allow drilling off Rhode Island’s coast directly jeopardizes our state’s economy and places the health of our oceans at risk. In order to protect our waters, I have consistently sponsored legislation that would put the Atlantic coast off limits for drilling. But we also need local voices, like the members of the Environmental Council of Rhode Island, to advocate against this plan and send a clear message to Secretary Zinke and the Trump Administration that there is no place for drilling off our treasured coastline.”

Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees BOEM’s budget, said: “I believe the Trump Administration’s plan to vastly expand offshore drilling is bad for the environment, economy, and public health.  I strongly oppose this shortsighted proposal to turn the Atlantic Ocean into an oilfield because it could endanger our waters, coastline, and economy.  I am particularly concerned about the impact that offshore oil and gas development in the Atlantic could have on Rhode Island’s fishing, boating, and marine industries. Rhode Islanders don’t want oil drilling off our coastline.  They deserve to know what the Trump Administration has planned for our waters and the federal government needs to listen to Rhode Island voices.”

The Environment Council of Rhode Island is a coalition of organizations and individuals whose mission is to serve as an effective voice for developing and advocating policies and laws that protect and enhance the environment.