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Source: The Long Island Advance

Local lawmakers oppose offshore drilling

BY TARA SMITH

Posted: February 12, 2018
Originally Published: February 8, 2018

Late last month, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) was joined by state and local officials, environmentalists and business leaders at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead to stand together in opposition to offshore drilling off our coast.

As they denounced the recently announced plan by the Department of the Interior to open 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf to energy exploration, Zeldin noted that offshore drilling will have unfavorable outcomes for Long Island. “Long Islanders understand that our waterways are more than just a summer weekend destination,” Zeldin said, adding that environmental protection goes hand in hand with protecting our economy, much of which does depend on scenic beaches and tourism.

On Jan. 4, Interior secretary Ryan Zinke announced the Trump Administration’s plan to expand offshore drilling. Set to begin next year, the plan would reverse Obama-era protections that limited drilling on U.S. coastlines. The five-year plan would make over 90 percent of the total OC acreage available for drilling. The current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits, according to the DOI.

A recently released Pew Research Center study shows that more Americans — 51 percent — are against allowing more oil and gas drilling in the U.S. That figure has decreased 10 points since 2014, the study claimed.

First District Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said that Long Island’s environment and economy depend on the cleanliness of our waters. “It is a reckless proposal which must be rejected out of hand. An oil spill off the coast of Long Island would destroy our economy and our quality of life,” he said.

Brookhaven Town supervisor Ed Romaine also attended the press conference after sending a letter to Zinke. In his letter, Romaine pointed out that Brookhaven is home to the largest mileage of coastline of any Long Island town, home to ocean, bay and sound waters. “As town supervisor, I do not support drilling in waters off our coastline. Like most Americans, I am concerned about the huge risks offshore drilling carries,” he wrote.

Urging the exemption of New York State, Romaine also noted that the 9-cent per oil barrel tax to fund emergency cleanup of oil spills expired Dec. 31. Those funds were used by the U.S. Coast Guard for cleanup after accidents like the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.

That spill, considered to be the largest in history, killed 11 people and thousands of marine lives as over 2 million gallons of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico.

Romaine also expressed concerns over economic impacts. “The Long Island coastline supports nearly 350,000 jobs and generates millions of dollars through tourism, fishing and other industries,” he wrote to Zinke.

Discover Long Island President and CEO Kristen Jarnagin said that protecting the environment translates to preserving local jobs in the $5.6 billion tourism industry. “[It’s] paramount to our region’s economic future,” she said.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, used the meeting to again call for cleaner energy. “Oil and water don’t mix,” she said. “Our future is in renewable energy, our past is fossil fuels. We must continue to progress with offshore wind and solar farms.”

Zeldin criticized the U.S. Department of the Interior, which will hold a public hearing in Albany on Feb. 15. The public comment period for the proposal is open until March 9, but Zeldin is requesting that be extended. He also said a public hearing should be held on Long Island “so federal regulators understand firsthand the negative impacts of this proposal.”

Fourth District Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) will host a public hearing on Feb. 14 in Smithtown on the government’s plan to allow offshore drilling. The hearing will take place at 10:30 a.m. in the legislative auditorium of the William H. Rogers Building, 725 Veterans Memorial Highway, Smithtown.

Englebright serves as the environmental conservation committee chair and will be joined by Assemb. Christine Pellegrino (D-Babylon-Oyster Bay-West Islip) from the commission on toxic substances and hazardous wastes and Assemb. Anthony D’Urso (D-Great Neck), chair of Long Island Sound Task Force.

“The recent decision to expand offshore drilling by the Trump Administration has the potential to have a major impact on New York’s coast,” Englebright said in a press release. “We need to hear from people and businesses about how this may impact them.”

Englebright added that potential oil spills — and what that would mean for our region — should be considered.

Third District Assemb. Dean Murray (R,C,I-East Patchogue) said he will be in budget hearings next week but looks forward to hearing public input. “Us being an island, [the plan] is something of concern to us,” he said in a phone call. “It’s an important issue and we want to get as much input as possible.”