Jan. 12 (UPI) — Visit New Jersey to hear from those that will lose out if Florida is the only state pulled from offshore drilling plans, a senator told the interior secretary.
Some Republican state leaders along the eastern U.S. shore have joined the chorus of Democrats in expressing frustration with an offshore drilling program proposed last week by the U.S. Interior Department.
Coming after the watering-down of safety measures enacted after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the lease proposal drew fire when it put waters from Florida to Maine on the table after President Barack Obama called for a ban on drilling in some territorial waters in one of his last executive actions.
The proposal was criticized further when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke pulled Florida from consideration after a brief meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Democrats, including Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a possible target of a Senate bid by the term-limited governor, said the concession smacked of political favor.
A narrow victory in Florida tipped the 2016 election to put Donald Trump in the White House.
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., sent a letter to Zinke that was signed by the entire bipartisan Congressional delegation in New Jersey asking him to visit the state.
“We invite you to personally visit New Jersey prior to the issuance of the Proposed Program, to learn firsthand about how offshore drilling would harm our communities and our economy,” the invitation read. “We would be happy to facilitate such a visit and connect you with the individuals who have the most to lose in the event of an oil spill.”
The letter from the state delegation said the coastal tourism industry generates $44 billion and supports about 10 percent of the total state workforce. Five years after superstorm Sandy, state leaders said work is still under way to rebuild.
Erosion caused by Hurricane Sandy eroded 30 years worth of sand at beaches in parts of New York alone. In New Jersey, the storm damaged or destroyed 346,000 homes, disrupted electrical power for almost 7 million people and 1,000 schools, and drove 116,000 people from their homes.
Zinke’s lease proposal is still in the draft phase and is open for public comment through mid-February. The entire process for finalizing a lease plan, set to begin in 2019, is long and complicated.
Before the Florida decision, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan issued a call for any legal claims, actions or suits against the federal government to prevent drilling off the state’s coast.
An executive order signed in April called for federal lease sales to include new parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and some of the Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska “as appropriate and consistent with applicable law.”
According to a lawsuit led by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, however, it’s unlawful to include areas banned by Obama.