03 • 07 • 2018

New England Sends a Clear Message about Trump’s New Offshore Drilling Proposal

By Melissa Gates

January 4, 2018 came as a wake up call across the U.S., when the Trump Administration unveiled its shockingly reckless draft proposed program to open up nearly every inch of our outer continental shelf to devastating oil and gas exploration and drilling. Written public comments on the proposal are being accepted through 11:59pm Eastern on March 9, 2018, and will constitute one critical component of the decision-making process for the 5-year oil and gas leasing program.

The Surfrider Foundation immediately responded to the threat by issuing an action alert, opposition resources, and taking the lead on organizing robust statewide coalitions across the coastal U.S. to help proponents of healthy ocean and coastal ecosystems rise up in unified, widespread, bipartisan, cross-sectoral opposition to any new offshore drilling or seismic activity. 

The objective of the coordinated campaigns was set to encourage participation of opponents to the proposal in the written public comment period and in public meetings held by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). With just one meeting in each coastal state's capital- many of which are inland and multiple hours away from the ocean where communities stand to be most severely impacted by this proposal- and with no opportunity to speak on the record nor hear the concerns of neighbors, this process was immediately met with vocal criticism and skepticism as to whether participation would have any value in influencing the proposed program, anticipated for release in November or December of 2018 for a subsequent 90-day public comment period.

Surfrider and other leading environmental organizations are taking the long road in response strategy by participating fully in the process set forth by the government. Staff of Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have said the Secretary is required to make his decision, in large part, pursuant to the following eight factors outlined in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act for determining the timing and location of leasing: 
• Geographical, geological, and ecological characteristics 
• Equitable sharing of developmental benefits and environmental risks 
• Location with respect to regional and national energy markets and needs 
• Location with respect to other uses of the sea and seabed 
• Interest of potential oil and gas producers 
• Laws, goals, and policies of affected states 
• Environmental sensitivity and marine productivity 
• Environmental and predictive information 

By participating fully at this stage, our opposition front will have standing for solid recourse should the Trump Administration's proposed program still contain waters off from coasts, where science and data concur with the massive outpouring of Americans who are rising up from every walk of life to demand government accountability in moving away from fossil fuels and toward a renewable energy future.

Organizing to help the government garner widespread public participation in its meetings has been challenging.

In New England, where our first round of scheduled BOEM meetings the week of January 22 were postponed at the 11th hour due to the government shutdown - literally with no public announcement until the late in the afternoon of Sunday, January 21- opponents have been diligent in scrambling to help BOEM get the word out to properly identify the public engagement opportunity for this significant proposal. Communications from the DOI and BOEM about engagement opportunities or timing and venue changes have not been widespread in our coastal communities, with many residents pulling off the road during outdoor press events and protests to ask what was happening.

Leading up to the meetings in the Northeast Region, Surfrider held several conference calls to empower all interested parties to help develop a plan for coordinated opposition. With tasks delegated and shared broadly among our coalition, a remarkable coalition was formed that built off from the support of 100% of New England's congressional delegation, and a near unanimous support from state and local electeds vocally opposing the proposal. 

On the heels of a February 5 milestone, where Surfrider Maine Chapter volunteer chair Brian Kennedy addressed the Portland City council ahead of  a Surfrider drafted municipal resolution formally characterizing the city's opposition to the proposal passing unanimously, and a Surfrider drafted Joint Resolution passing the Maine House, Surfrider and our Connecticut Chapter volunteer chair Jack Egan worked tightly with the CT Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters CT to pull off a vocal rally and press event outside of the Hartford, CT public meeting. More than 60 Connecticut residents came out to talk with BOEM agency staff about the proposal, and to share their concerns.

Our coordinated campaign team in New Hampshire held an unofficial public hearing in Rye, where state House Representative Renny Cushing of Hampton agreed to champion Surfrider's statewide resolution in the NH General Court.

At our Ocean Recreation Lobby event in Washington D.C. on February 15 and 16, staff of U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a leading opponent to this offshore drilling proposal, provided a breakfast briefing to our nearly 100 participants. The message was clear: it is time for Americans to rise up and demand an end to dirty fossil fuel development! 

Senator Markey then invited the Surfrider Foundation to speak at his public hearing on this matter in Boston, held one day ahead of BOEM's meeting in Boston, on February 26. There, several coastal leaders from local government, recreation, health, tourism, science, fishing, and environment spoke about why this proposal is a bad idea.

Public confusion abounded in Massachusetts, when after the new date sprang up moving our initially scheduled January 24 meeting to February 27, not one but two venue changes ensued, from the Hyatt to the Omni Parker House and then to the Sheraton, in a completely different Boston district. Nonetheless, our coordinated campaign group in Massachusetts persisted, and has grown each day with more and more concerned citizens wanting to help oppose offshore drilling. 

In spite of the massive confusion, lack of adequate meeting promotion or proper public communication from government officials, our coordinated campaign was still able to turn out over 250 people, who gathered in protest in Boston on Tuesday, February 27, at the start of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's public meeting covering the Trump Administration's Draft Proposed 2019-2024 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program. Opponents to offshore drilling and seismic poured out of our meeting room and down the halls, which were peppered with colorful signs, people from every walk of life adorned in ocean recreation gear and costumes, and a 15' inflatable whale, helping make the connection to the future it is clear that Massachusetts residents want to see for the coast.

A busload of 22 people organized by 350-Cape Cod made the long journey to Boston for the meeting, where our rally and press event featured remarks by multiple sectors and influential speakers, including Republican Senator Bruce Tarr, co-sponsor of the state Senate resolution opposing the plan; activists from Music Out Front leading our group in song; and an Emerson student offering the youth voice and questioning what kind of future this proposal would leave for future generations. 

At the conclusion of the rally, participants entered into the BOEM meeting to talk with agency staff about the proposal, and other activities associated with the bureau. Staff interactions have been cordial and informative, with participants leaving feeling better prepared to make informed comments and yet still, not satisfied with the government failure to provide a proper hearing where their comments could be additionally be informed by scientists outside of the BOEM, and the concerns of other community members.

The Surfrider Massachusetts Chapter's volunteer campaign coordinator, Alex Vai, made the rounds to discuss the proposal, making his concerns and those of fellow chapter volunteers, known.

As New England faces down yet another severe winter storm warning on March 7, 2018, we are also marking the last of our 5 public meetings in this phase of the 5-year oil and gas leasing program, to be held in Maine this evening. In spite of over 1-foot of snowfall expected this evening, government officials have said the meeting at the Augusta Civic Center will go on, regardless of weather. This comes after a contentious decision not to extend the public comment period in line with the time lost due to the weeklong government shutdown in January that postponed 4 of our 5 meetings. With mere hours left for the public to submit written comments, accessibility to the public process is in jeopardy as Mainers face likely power outages, school and street closures, making in person attendance or online comments tricky, if not impossible. 

Surfrider will be on site this evening in Augusta, and we will continue to lead the charge on this important ocean protection issue here in New England and across the nation. 

To join our coordinated campaign efforts in New England, please fill out this form. This draft proposed program is but the first step in a long process, and we will need to continually keep the pressure on and build our opposition front to be successful in this campaign; your support, your volunteerism and your voice NOW are critical to the success of this movement. 

Our opportunity here isn’t only about protecting the ocean waters of America, marine life, a favorite surf break, jobs or a given beach community; it’s about demanding that our government utilize the best available science and data and listen to the massive outpouring of public opposition to destructive offshore oil and gas development, to shift the tides of energy development instead away from fossil fuels and toward renewables; it’s about holding our President and federal agencies accountable for decisions they make about the management of the ocean; it’s about protecting the ocean and every coastline from the atrocity and injustice of offshore drilling and exploration; it’s about protecting clean water, air and beaches now and for the future; it’s about protecting one another, and the Earth. Thank you for doing your part!