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Merkley, Wyden: Spare Oregon coast from drilling, too

Two-dozen senators want same exemption as Florida

WASHINGTON - Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden joined a group of colleagues representing coastal states Thursday to tell the Trump administration that they don’t want oil and gas drilling off their coasts, and are demanding the same respect for their states that was recently given to Florida, which was granted a special exemption by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

In a letter sent to Secretary Zinke, Merkley and Wyden, along with 20 of their colleagues, requested that Oregon and other affected states be given the same treatment that the Trump Administration gave Florida and be immediately exempted from any new offshore oil or gas leases.

Last week, the Trump Administration announced a controversial plan to dramatically expand drilling leases across 90 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf, including the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and parts of the Arctic Ocean. 

Soon thereafter, the Interior Secretary had a discussion with Florida’s Governor, and took the offshore drilling expansion off the table for federal waters off the coast of Florida without any public hearings or input, stating: “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” The Trump Administration denies that Florida received a special exemption because President Trump owns property along the state’s coastline.

Merkley, Wyden and the Senators requested exemptions for their states, too, writing: “Just like Florida, our states are unique with vibrant coastal economies. Providing all of our states with the same exemption from dangerous offshore oil and gas drilling would ensure that vital industries from tourism to recreation to fishing are not needlessly placed in harm’s way.

“We urge you to honor the commitment of this Administration by listening to the local and state voices that we represent and to respect their overwhelming opposition to oil and gas drilling off our coasts. Instead of focusing on short-term benefits for oil and gas companies, our country should be looking toward a clean energy future.  We hope we can work with you to protect our natural resources, our environment, and the livelihoods of coastal residents so that they remain for future generations.”

Oregon’s pristine and world-famous coast is a major driver of tourism in the state. In 2016, the tourism industry in Oregon directly employed nearly 110,000 Oregonians and visitors spent over $11 billion in the state. Additionally, commercial fishing is a major economic driver along the coast, supporting more than $500 million in personal income in Oregon.

Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown has also spoken out against opening up the Oregon Coast for offshore drilling and has requested that Secretary Zinke give Oregon the same exemption that was granted to Florida.

In addition to Merkley and Wyden, the letter was led by U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and signed by U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

These Senators strongly oppose the Trump Administration’s offshore drilling plan, which is harmful to the environment and public health, and could devastate coastal economies. 

A copy of the letter text follows:

January 11, 2018

The Honorable Ryan Zinke   

Secretary        

United States Department of the Interior      

1849 C Street NW     

Washington, DC 20240         

Dear Secretary Zinke:

            We write to you today regarding your recent decision to remove Florida from inclusion in the Trump Administration’s new proposal to open up the vast majority of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling.  We request that our states also be immediately exempted from any new oil or gas leases as a part of this plan.

            In the statement on your decision to remove Florida, you indicated that President Trump had directed you to reestablish our country’s offshore oil and gas leasing program in a way that “takes into consideration the local and state voice.”  In addition to Florida, the states of Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Connecticut, California, Oregon, and Washington have all opposed new leases off their coasts.  Coastal cities and towns across the country have also passed resolutions in opposition while local residents, businesses, scientists, the military, and others have publicly raised serious concerns.

            Just like Florida, our states are unique with vibrant coastal economies.  Providing all of our states with the same exemption from dangerous offshore oil and gas drilling would ensure that vital industries from tourism to recreation to fishing are not needlessly placed in harm’s way.

            We urge you to honor the commitment of this Administration by listening to the local and state voices that we represent and to respect their overwhelming opposition to oil and gas drilling off our coasts.  Instead of focusing on short term benefits for oil and gas companies, our country should be looking toward a clean energy future.  We hope we can work with you to protect our natural resources, our environment, and the livelihoods of coastal residents so that they remain for future generations.

            Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.         


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