Tourism and fishing depend on a clean coastline – so why isn’t our state exempt from the oil exploration planned by the Trump administration?
The Trump administration Tuesday removed the waters off Florida – and only Florida – from the list of areas newly open to offshore drilling, and in doing so made a compelling case that the Maine coast should be removed as well.
After opposition from Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Florida would not be part of a plan to make more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf available by lease to energy extraction companies. Florida, Zinke said, was “unique,” with its coasts “heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”
Not only is Maine’s $6 billion-a-year tourism industry largely dependent on a clean and picturesque coastline, so too is the $1.7 billion-a-year lobster industry. Together, they have an economic impact far greater than the fossil fuel industry ever could here.
It should go without saying that a spill on par with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which pumped 215 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, causing $17 billion in damages and effects on wildlife and coastal areas that are still seen today, would be catastrophic for the state. But even routine seismic testing and the everyday extraction of oil and gas could affect the fishery and degrade the coastline.
We’re not the only ones making that argument. All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation are opposed to offshore drilling near Maine, too.
In addition to Florida’s Scott, the Republican governors of South Carolina, Maryland, New Hampshire and New Jersey are all against opening the Atlantic to drilling, as are the Democratic governors of North Carolina, Delaware and Virginia.
However, only Scott was able to get results from his immediate opposition. Even though Zinke characterized the plan’s unveiling as the first step among many in a long, deliberative process to find a balance between energy exploration and a clean environment, Florida was dropped from the list less than a week after the plan was made public, before even one hearing or test.
It is a seemingly arbitrary move that has raised questions about whether the Trump administration is trying to influence Scott’s possible upcoming Senate run, or even protect the president’s substantial Florida real estate holdings.
But even if gubernatorial opposition were to become the deciding factor, Maine would be out of luck. Gov. LePage is alone among the chief executives of East Coast states in his support for Atlantic offshore drilling. In a statement, LePage said offshore drilling has the potential to create jobs and energy independence, and that sensitive areas would not be included in the final plan.
As for excluding sensitive areas, who knows? With the Florida decision, the Trump administration has shown that it may not use fair, reasonable metrics in its decision making.
And the greatest pathway toward energy independence and a robust energy sector lies in the development of renewable sources and technologies whose generation doesn’t degrade the environment and threaten important Maine industries.