Oil and Orcas

Coalition of state legislators oppose offshore oil drilling

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Elected officials in Washington state say they’ll fight the Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore oil and gas drilling.

At a rally in Olympia Monday, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson warned the state would sue the administration if it moves forward.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hillary Franz said the plan would put the state’s shoreline at risk for oil spills.

“We have collectively, all of us, worked far too long to protect those shorelines, not only for the natural resources and the environment, but also for the local economies that depend on it,” Franz said. “And that’s why I am proud to join with you, raise our voices and declare absolutely not.”

The rally was timed for the announcement by a coalition of state legislators across the nation, opposing the plan.

The 227 members of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke this week, opposing the Trump Administration’s announcement to increase offshore oil and gas drilling. The proposed leasing program seeks to make a majority of the United States Outer Continental Shelf open to oil and gas exploration and construction, representing the first time in decades that many states’ coasts would be exposed to such development and potential harm.

The letter, spearheaded by Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker and California State Senator Kevin de León, cites numerous issues that come with offshore drilling. Issues range from the large-scale, irreparable damage caused by oil spills, to the long-term damage to coastal economies after these disasters.

“These state legislators are committed to protecting the coastlines of the United States, said Jeff Mauk, executive director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. “They understand the economic and environmental importance of our coasts and are standing together against this proposal.”

“This reckless proposal opens shorelines to new oil and gas drilling, putting Washington state and the entire country’s economy and marine environment at risk of a catastrophic oil spill,” said Ranker. “States across the country are standing up together against the Trump administration to protect our communities, our marine and coastal environment and economy.”

“Californians overwhelmingly oppose offshore drilling,” said de León. “It’s dangerous, it’s shortsighted, and the risks dramatically outweigh the benefits. We need to build the clean energy infrastructure of the future, not compromise our oceans and the coastal economies that depend on them with offshore oil wells.”

Coastal tourism, fisheries, shipping and defense are not only critical economic drivers in some states, but are the underpinning of all U.S. coastal states’ economies. NOAA reports that coastal communities alone provide 45 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product. Furthermore, California, Oregon, and Washington combined represent the fifth-largest economy in the world, a level of prosperity that would not be achieved without their ocean-dependent industries. It is clear that U.S. coastlines are a fundamental part of the nation’s economic activity and would be threatened by the offshore drilling plan.

The letter reinforces the positions of the governors of coastal states, each of whom have expressed some concerns about the offshore drilling proposal. The governors of the Western states, in particular, have condemned the plan as heedless of technical concerns and potentially harmful in impacts.

The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators organizes more than 1,000 environmentally committed state legislators from all 50 states and both parties. NCEL provides venues and opportunities for lawmakers to share ideas and collaborate on environmental issues.

Orca protection passes

The Washington State Senate has passed legislation to protect orcas and the state’s marine waters in which they live.

Two bills make up the Salish Sea Protection package championed by state Senator Kevin Ranker, the Orcas Island Democrat.

The Orca Whale Protection Act (SB 5886)—which was declared dead this session in the Washington State Senate and then revived—passed with a 34-15 vote. The act aims to decrease noise pollution and strengthen orca protection laws by requiring boats to give orcas an adequate buffer.

The bill also provides funding for improved education and enforcement by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It calls for a transboundary discussion of orca whale protection and preservation. A $5 increase for an endangered wildlife special license plate helps fund the efforts.

The Salish Sea Protection Act (SB 6269) passed the state Senate 42-7. This legislation will provide additional funding for state oil spill prevention and response activities, update geographical response plans, and provide funding to research and make recommendations for both tug escorts and a stationed rescue tug for all vessels carrying large quantities of oil across the Salish Sea.

The act also calls for more collaboration and partnership with our Canadian neighbors, considered essential to halt the decline of whale populations and that of their favorite food, chinook salmon.

“The Puget Sound resident orca population has dropped to one of its lowest levels ever. We must do everything in our power to protect these incredible whales on the brink of extinction,” Ranker said in a released statement. “This bill ensures our children will continue to enjoy the wonder and beauty of watching these magical creatures.”

Both bills now head to the House of Representatives .

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