By Mal Leary
Maine Public news story
Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine questioned Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday on a proposal to open most of the coastal areas of the United States to exploratory drilling for gas and oil.
King used a hearing on the Interior Department budget to press Zinke to pay attention to the opposition that’s coming from from the state of Maine. He told Zinke that the Maine Legislature, as well as the state’s congressional delegation, are all opposed to drilling off Maine’s coast, and he points to the scores of Mainers who traveled to Augusta in last week’s blizzard to testify against the proposal.
“The coastal economy of Maine is enormously dependent upon fisheries, lobster and visitors throughout the year, so I hope that will be taken into consideration,” he said.
King asked Zinke to exempt Maine waters from consideration for drilling, as the secretary did for the state of Florida. As he and King sparred over the issue, Zinke defended his decision to exempt Florida for a number of reasons, including input from that’s state’s members of Congress.
“Every member, both sides of the aisle, wrote me an immediate letter, said, ‘We don’t want it,’” Zinke said.
“That’s true of Maine as well, by the way,” King said.
“Second is your governor, the governor of Maine is for it. And third, Florida has a federal moratorium in place till 2022, which no other state has,” Zinke said.
King said he was not trying to challenge Zinke’s decision in Florida, but simply asking that opponents to offshore drilling in Maine be given the same consideration given to those in Florida. He said Mainers are very worried about the impact of a possible spill, even a small one, from exploratory drilling.
“The benefit we see is minimal. The cost, the potential cost is enormous,” he said.
But Zinke made no promises, saying only that he has started the process of review by looking at all potential locations and would make his decisions based on the data developed by his agency and on public comments collected from across the country.