Virginia Dems blast Trump team’s moves towards offshore drilling

By: - February 14, 2019 5:01 am

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WASHINGTON — Virginia Democrats are calling on the Trump administration to reverse course on recent moves that could allow seismic airgun testing and offshore drilling off the East Coast.

All nine Democrats in Virginia’s U.S. congressional delegation — two senators and seven representatives — wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt opposing the administration’s efforts to expand drilling, including potentially off the coast of Virginia.

“Our constituents remain concerned with the administration’s efforts to open the commonwealth’s offshore area to oil and gas exploration and drilling,” they wrote.

Last November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Commerce Department issued five Incidental Harassment Authorization Permits, a step toward allowing companies to conduct seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. The technique is used to locate oil and gas beneath the ocean floor.

The Democrats on Tuesday asked the administration to revoke those permits and deny all pending seismic survey permits for the Atlantic. They also expressed opposition to including Virginia’s offshore area in the Interior Department’s final 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

“In Virginia alone, more than 20 communities have officially voiced their opposition to seismic surveys and offshore drilling, including Virginia Beach and Norfolk – Virginia’s most populous cities,” they wrote.

In addition to Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, the letter was signed by U.S. Reps. Donald McEachin, Bobby Scott, Don Beyer, Elaine Luria, Gerald Connolly, Jennifer Wexton and Abigail Spanberger.

“The commonwealth has a diverse and robust economy based on sectors like tourism, recreation, aquaculture, deepwater port commerce, and Department of Defense infrastructure. Moving forward with seismic testing and offshore drilling could threaten these critical engines of Virginia’s economy, along with the valuable ecosystems along the coast and within the Chesapeake Bay. These shores, and the ecosystems and jobs they support, are simply too vital to the commonwealth to risk,” they added.

In December, Virginia signed on to a lawsuit with other states and several environmental groups to fight President Donald Trump’s decision to open the East Coast up to seismic airgun testing.

“The commonwealth of Virginia and our coastal communities have made it clear time and again that we aren’t interested in offshore drilling that could threaten our coastal environment and economy just so a few oil and gas companies can make a few more bucks,” said Attorney General Mark Herring.

Virginia’s returning congressional Republicans are more bullish on offshore drilling. U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-9th, whose district is in Southwest Virginia, has been a staunch backer.  U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, whose 1st District includes much of coastal Virginia, was more guarded, backing the seismic surveys.

“Let’s at least have some data that we can go on and discover what’s out there and then the next step is if you allow for that to be developed, and if you do, what the conditions would be,” Wittman told the Greater Williamsburg Chamber and Tourism Alliance last fall, the Virginia Gazette reported.

New Congressman Denver Riggleman, R-5th, sees Atlantic offshore drilling as part of a “golden age of energy production in America.”

“By reducing regulations and harnessing our country’s resources we have become the world’s energy leader,” Riggleman said in a statement. “Offshore drilling is another area where we can use our resources to provide affordable power to American homes and provide good American jobs.”

The office of U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th, did not respond to a request for comment.

Staff writer Mechelle Hankerson contributed.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.