by Tracy Loew, Statesman Journal
Oregon’s coastal legislators are demanding the Trump administration reverse its decision to open the entire West Coast to offshore oil drilling.
“You can be very, very sure that I’m concerned about this,” Rep. David Gomberg, D-Otis, said Tuesday at a news conference and rally organized by opponents. “It puts our coastal communities, our beaches, our surf-breaks, and our marine ecosystems at risk of a catastrophic oil spill.”
The rally, at the Oregon Capitol, drew hundreds of angry, raucous protesters. It coincided with a U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management open house on the proposal at the Red Lion hotel in Northeast Salem.
Speakers, representing tribes, recreation and tourism groups, and state and local government, called the decision irresponsible and dangerous. They voiced concerns about oil spills, impacts to marine life, and a possible catastrophe if the region is hit with a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.
“We can protect up to three miles of the coast under state law, and I look forward to extending the moratorium on offshore oil and gas development in the 2019 legislative session, but the federal government should respect the values Oregonians have affirmed time after time,” said Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay.
At the Red Lion, meeting attendees expressed surprise that they were not allowed to testify.
Mt. Angel residents Kelli Buchheit and Rebecca Berning said that federal employees staffing the dozen or so informational booths were not able to answer their questions and instead directed them to a bank of laptops where they could submit written questions and comments.
Attendees also were offered an informational video and fact sheets about the drilling plan and other topics such as renewable energy.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Oregon Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley took to the Senate floor urging the administration to rescind the proposal.
“We have a picturesque coastline that looks right out of a storybook — 362 miles that support 22,000 jobs and a $2 billion economy. Tourism, fishing, recreation, all dependent on a healthy Pacific Ocean, Wyden said. “Our coast is entirely publicly owned and it’s been protected from oil and gas drilling for decades.”
Wyden slammed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for granting Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s request to exempt Florida from the plan, saying the move was “nakedly political.”
Gov. Kate Brown asked for an exemption for Oregon as well. Zinke has said he will consider the request.
The Pacific Coast has been closed to new oil and gas drilling for decades, with the last federal lease sales taking place in 1984.
The five-year plan, announced Jan. 4, is the largest expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling in history. It also would open drilling in new areas of the Arctic, the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
The Salem open house was the fourth of 23 meetings the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is holding in coastal states. The agency postponed a similar meeting scheduled for Tuesday in Tacoma, Washington. Another meeting is scheduled for Thursday in Sacramento, California.
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