The Department of the Interior is proposing to open nearly all of the nation’s coastline to exploratory drilling for oil and gas. The feds held an open house in Augusta Wednesday to collect public comment, which was largely in firm opposition.
President Trump was making good on a campaign promise when he announced his executive order directing the Interior Department to start the process to open coastal areas to drilling. His move would undo a ban on drilling put in place in the last year of President Obama’s Administration. Trump says the United States is missing out on jobs and economic growth by failing to maximize domestic oil and gas production.
“The federal government has kept 94 percent of these offshore areas closed for exploration and production,” says Trump. “This deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth.”
The President’s proposal has drawn wide support from energy companies, but many Mainers attending a meeting at the Augusta civic center weren’t buying the arguments put forth by the President. The Interior Department listening session was more instructional, offering information about how to file written comments, and it offered no microphone to record any testimony. But scores of activists attended an event prior to the meeting that was organized by opponents to allow people to sound off.
“Now is the time for Maine people to speak up and oppose this short-sighted giveaway to the oil industry,” says Lisa Pohlman, the executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Pohlman says studies have shown that there is little potential for finding oil or gas off the Maine coast while the risks from exploration, she says, are enormous.
“The Trump Administration’s plan to sell off our ocean waters to the oil industry poses a major, unacceptable risk to Maine’s coast, residents, economy and marine life," she says. Melissa Gates of the Surfrider Foundation told the group that neither Maine nor the rest of the country can afford to risk the harm that would be caused by a spill or drilling accident off the coast.
“We say loud and clear, No!” Gates says to the crowd. “Can you all join me in saying that? No! Not here in Maine, not here in New England and not anywhere in America.”
Others say even exploratory drilling could cause serious harm to existing Maine industries, including tourism and commercial fishing, which are part of Maine’s identity.
“There’s no one that comes to the state of Maine to the coastline to eat a chicken sandwich,” says State Rep. Mick Devin, a democrat from Newcastle. “If we don’t maintain our pristine coast we might as well pack it up and become part of Massachusetts again because we won’t be able to survive.”
Devin sponsored a resolution unanimously supported in the legislature opposing offshore drilling. Members of the state’s congressional delegation sent representatives to read statements in opposition to the proposal. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has not said when he will deliver a recommendation to the President on what coastal areas should be open to drilling.
This story was originally published March 7, 2018 at 5:12 p.m. ET.