By Jennifer Mitchell
Maine Public news story
On Thursday, the Trump administration announced a draft proposal that would open large swaths of federal waters to potential oil and gas drilling, including the coast of Maine.
The proposal would open most of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling for a five-year lease period to start in 2019. The prospect of rigs churning up the seabed in the Gulf of Maine, alongside struggling shrimp stocks, valuable scallops and the state’s iconic lobster has environmental advocates furious.
“So this is just a slap in the face frankly to anybody who wants to protect their economy on the coast,” says Natural Resources Council of Maine Executive Director Lisa Pohlmann.
Pohlmann says aquaculture, seafood harvesting and tourism would be under threat from such a plan because, as she puts it, “where there is drilling there is spilling.”
Gov. Paul LePage’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but in 2015, LePage became the first Northeastern governor to join the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition in support of expanded offshore drilling — potential support that appears to be in the minority for East Coast governors.
Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott tweeted his opposition Thursday to the inclusion of Atlantic states such as his in the lease sale plan. The tweet echoes concerns raised by a bipartisan group governors along the Eastern Seaboard, including New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the Carolinas.
Pohlmann says with such strong opposition from both sides of the aisle, it’s hard to understand why the administration would make the proposal.
“What is obvious is that they’re sending a message to the oil and gas industry that we are completely behind you at the risk of pollution, at the risk of public health,” she says.
The proposal unveiled by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke would offer up offshore blocks for lease between 2019 and 2024, and would include about 90 percent of the outer continental shelf, including Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic ocean areas protected under the current five-year plan put in place by the Obama administration.
Both Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree and Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin say they’re opposed to drilling off the coast of Maine.
Poliquin said in a statement Thursday that the economy and tens of thousands of jobs depend on marine and tourism industries. Pingree called the proposal “absolutely outrageous.”
A public hearing on the plan is scheduled in Augusta on Jan. 22.