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Washington asks to be released from coastal drilling plan

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Washington state steps up resistance to a plan that would permit offshore drilling in coastal waters.

Governor Jay Inslee this week formally requested the Trump administration remove Washington from plans to open the state’s coastal waters to oil and gas drilling. The plan, championed by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, would open 90 percent of the country’s outer continental shelf to oil and gas leasing, including areas off the coasts of Washington and Oregon.

Over the next five years, the administration is proposing 47 offshore lease sales for oil and gas drilling, which would be the largest number of lease sales ever proposed for the outer continental shelf.

“This plan threatens the health, safety and economic prosperity of our beautiful coastal communities,” Inslee said. “We are committed to doing everything in our power to make sure that Washington’s waters remain protected from offshore drilling.”

A letter from the governor to Zinke reinforced his strong opposition to drilling off the state’s coast and urged the Trump administration to treat all states, including Washington, equitably. Inslee invited the interior secretary to a personal meeting to discuss the request.

Last month, Zinke announced the Trump administration would exempt Florida from new offshore drilling based on opposition from its state and local leaders, its unique coastlines and its heavy reliance on tourism as an economic driver — all standards that also apply to Washington, the governor noted.

Inslee joined governors from Oregon and California in condemning the plan, saying it would endanger their coastal waters and coastal economies. The governor also noted every member of Washington’s congressional delegation representing coastal communities urged the removal of Washington’s coasts from the proposal.

“I have stated unequivocally that opening the Pacific Coast to new oil and gas drilling for the first time in decades poses grave danger to our state’s unique recreation, tourism, shipping, military and fishing industries, threatening thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue each year,” the governor wrote.

The state Attorney General also responded in a coordinated front, opposing the proposal and asking that Washington be exempted from it.

If Washington is not removed from the plan, Attorney General Bob Ferguson warned Zinke the state will file a lawsuit to defend the state’s diverse and unique ecosystems. Washington state law specifically prohibits oil and gas exploration, production and drilling in our state’s marine waters.

“On January 9, 2018, Secretary Zinke announced that he had granted an exemption to Florida, sparing that state from the risks and burdens of drilling and exploration off its shores,” Ferguson wrote. “Every reason identified by the Secretary in announcing his decision also applies to Washington. Were the department to grant one state an exemption without an identified process and established criteria, it would contravene the regulatory framework and processes that states rely on for fair and lawful treatment.”

At an event in Olympia, organized by the Surfrider Foundation and a coalition of other organizations, Inslee joined Ferguson and other elected officials, coastal, tribal and fishing industry representatives to highlight Washington’s commitment to protecting a fishing, tourism and recreation economy worth billions of dollars from oil spills and pollution.

The Northwest region hasn’t supported offshore oil drilling activity and is not considered to be a rich source of offshore fossil fuel. One lease sale was held in 1964 for the Northwest area. Twelve exploratory wells were drilled, with no commercial discoveries. There are no existing leases and there haven’t been any federal lease sales off the California, Oregon, or Washington coasts since 1984.

The Interior Department was scheduled to hold a public meeting this week about the drilling proposal, but that meeting was abruptly canceled amid plans for a protest rally by those opposed to such lease sales. Interior Department officials said the meeting will be rescheduled.

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