Like Florida, Virginia seeks offshore drilling exemption

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Ralph Northam. Photo: Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov.-elect Ralph Northam asked Thursday that Virginia be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to open almost all of America’s offshore waters to drilling.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Northam cited his childhood growing up on the Eastern Shore as testament to the region’s worth to Virginia and the country at large.

“The Chesapeake Bay and the Commonwealth’s ocean and coastal resources are every bit as ecologically and economically valuable as those of Florida,” Northam said.

Last week, Zinke proposed allowing offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all coastal waters of the United States. But on Tuesday, following objections from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Zinke said Florida would be exempt from the plan.

Northam’s letter asked “that the same exemption be made for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

The letter follows Northam’s previous statement condemning the Trump administration’s drilling proposal. Governors of other East Coast states – including Maryland and North and South Carolina – have also voiced objections.

Northam said offshore drilling would pose financial risks to Virginia. He said he was concerned about military assets in Hampton Roads, which account for “nearly half” of the region’s economy, and about the tourism and seafood industries. Northam said Virginia is “the leading seafood producer on the East Coast, the third largest producer in the country, and the national leader in hard clam aquaculture.”

Zinke has called the drilling plan part of “a new path for energy dominance in America.” In a press release last week, he said oil and gas drilling would have vast financial benefits, providing “billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.”

The Trump administration will take public comment on its proposals from Jan. 16 through March 9.

Northam called on the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to hold public hearings in Hampton Roads and on the Eastern Shore. He noted that the bureau has scheduled a public meeting for the proposal in Richmond, “nearly 100 miles from the coastal communities that would most feel its impacts.”

By George Copeland Jr.

Capital News Service/Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.