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U.S. House votes to protect ocean economies from offshore drilling

Photo / Courtesy of Frank Cavezza

Oregon coastal advocates are joining businesses from all over the West Coast to applaud a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives that protects large portions of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) planning areas from new offshore drilling and along with them, the coastal economies and jobs that rely on a clean and healthy ocean.

The Sept. 11 votes stand in direct opposition to the Interior Department’s proposal to open up 90 percent of U.S. waters to new offshore drilling and address the need for certainty in federal waters, alignment with state legislation protecting state waters and, in Oregon, the fleet’s dependence on fishing grounds beyond Oregon state waters.

The Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act (H.R. 1941), sponsored by Congressman Joe Cunningham (D-SC) and co-sponsored by Reps. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), permanently prohibits the Department of the Interior from offering any oil and gas leasing in the Pacific and Atlantic OCS areas.

The Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019 (H.R. 205), sponsored by Congressman Francis Rooney (R-FL), makes permanent the current moratorium, which is set to expire at the end of June 2022, on offshore oil and gas activities in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

The bills are supported by West and East Coast governors; over 2,100 elected officials from both parties and from all levels of government; 369 municipalities and counting; over 50,000 business interests; and over 500,000 fishing families. Last year, the National Congress of American Indians adopted a resolution opposing offshore drilling.

“With the federal government proposing to open our coastal waters to oil drilling, I worry that our community will experience the terrible consequences that my family and others did living near the Gulf of Mexico,” said Annie Pollard, co-owner of 7 Devils Brewing Co. in Coos Bay, Oregon. “My family grew up not being able to swim in the Gulf because the beaches were filled with tar balls from offshore oil activity. My mom used to share stories of seeing films of oil every time she held her cup of drinking water to the light.

“A lot of our coastal industries, like fishing, tourism and recreation, are reliant on a healthy Oregon Coast.”

In March of this year, Governor Kate Brown signed legislation to permanently ban offshore drilling in state waters and prevent the development of new piers, pipelines and other infrastructure needed to support drilling in federal waters.

“The Pacific coast economy is inextricably tied to clean coastal waters and beaches, as well as a stable climate,” said Vipe Desai with the 4,000-member Business Alliance for Protecting the Pacific Coast. “Any expansion of offshore drilling would pose an unacceptable and unnecessary risk to our nation’s robust ocean economies, businesses, and the lifestyles of our customers and employees.”

A healthy ocean is a major economic engine for Oregon’s coastal communities. Beyond the many fishing-related jobs, this includes small business owners who operate bed and breakfasts, restaurants, whale watching charters and rentals for recreational equipment such as kayaks, surfboards, diving equipment, among others. A 2011 study by NaturalEquity, Surfrider, and Ecotrust found that coastal recreation alone generates $2.4 billion per year.

“The Department of Interior’s drilling proposal threatens Oregon’s world-class beaches, ocean and coastal recreation and our fishing communities that depend on healthy ocean waters far beyond Oregon’s Coast,” said Charlie Plybon, Oregon policy manager with Surfrider Foundation. “Oregonians want Congress to pass a permanent ban on new offshore drilling in the Pacific, Atlantic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico.”

No new oil leases have been offered off the Pacific coast since 1984, but the federal proposal calls for seven from 2019 to 2024. The proposal met with immediate, bipartisan opposition, with state and local leaders around the country urging the federal government to protect the millions of jobs and businesses that rely on a healthy ocean.

In Oregon, the cities of Port Orford, Newport, Lincoln City, Toledo, Yachats, Gold Beach and Portland have passed resolutions opposing the proposal. The Siletz Tribal Council and Ports of Toledo and Newport have also passed resolutions.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management received hundreds of thousands of public comments opposing the “Draft Proposed Program” for offshore drilling, including more than 30,000 from Oregonians. The current plan includes seven lease sales on the Pacific Coast: one for Oregon and Washington, and six in California.

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