by Melissa Gates, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
New England’s beaches flavor our way of life, bring visitors to our communities, and fuel our coastal economy. From Maine to Connecticut, these treasures attract an endless stream of visitors who contribute over $11 billion to our region’s annual GDP.
However, our thriving coast is under grave threat. In addition to pollution, rising seas, warming temperatures and overfishing, on April 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to expand offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters, directing the Department of the Interior to develop a new oil and gas leasing program.
On Jan. 4, the Trump Administration released its proposed five-year draft plan to expand offshore drilling and seismic exploration, which if placed in action in its current form would open up most of America’s outer continental shelf to offshore drilling, including right here off the shores of New England.
Offshore drilling is a dirty and destructive practice that pollutes the ocean, destroys beaches and puts coastal economies at risk. The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the more recent 2015 spill in Santa Barbara, California, did major and lasting damage, foreshadowing our future if we allow increased drilling.
A spill anywhere in the Atlantic would soon draw pollution remnants into the Gulf of Maine, decimating our ecosystem and communities.
Several significantly threatened species, such as the North Atlantic right whale, are sensitive to noise, such as that produced by seismic airgun blasting and pile driving, which are required to develop offshore oil and gas resources. By the government’s own damage estimates, far too great of a threat exists to these species to allow advancing development of our outer continental shelf. As renewable, clean energy alternatives abound presenting clear benefits to all Americans, it is clearer than ever that new offshore drilling and seismic activity are simply not the answer.
Big oil is eager to profit at the expense of American people, but their lobby can’t control our voices. People are speaking out, and members of Congress are listening. Over 100 House Democrats and Republicans recently signed a letter urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke not to allow any new offshore oil and gas drilling, and 100 percent of our New England congressional delegation supports the New England Coastal Protection Act, a bill to permanently protect our region’s outer continental shelf from oil and gas development.
Citizens who depend on a healthy ocean must continue to demand a move away from dirty fuels and toward clean energy. We will have another opportunity in the fall of 2018, when the administration is anticipated to release the next draft of its 5-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan for a public comment period.
Thankfully, the trend toward a cleaner energy future is alive and well in the Northeast, as New England states amp up goals and join with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to advance offshore renewable projects. There are public comment periods open now for specific projects in waters off the shores of Rhode Island and Massachusetts, as well as for providing feedback on the bureau’s siting process. These are important opportunities to help steer the direction of our energy future, to protect the ocean we all love, and ensure clean energy projects advance responsibly.
Another way New Englanders can keep abreast of happenings in our regional ocean space, and have an opportunity to provide feedback, is by participating in the public process for implementing our Northeast Regional Ocean Plan.
The Plan is a guide for agency decisions and practices that advance progress toward goals for the management of our public ocean resources.
The Northeast Regional Planning Body is hosting its next public meeting on June 21, at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick, Rhode Island. The meeting kicks off at 8:30 a.m., adjourning at 4 p.m.
The meeting will include a review of the use of the Plan and the Northeast Ocean Data Portal to inform decision making, and a presentation about submerged paleocultural landscape research.
As we head out to our magnificent New England beaches this summer, let’s remember that the time to get active to protect our precious ocean, is now.
Melissa Gates lives in Cushing and is the Northeast Regional Manager for the Surfrider Foundation.