Big Oil, Beware the Ides of March: Obama Administration Drops Atlantic Coast Drilling Plan That Endangered Jersey Shore

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Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center

Trenton – Atlantic Coast communities won a major victory today, when the Obama Administration abandoned its plans to open the Atlantic seaboard to offshore oil and gas drilling for the first time in decades. Announced last January, the initial 2017 to 2022 Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan put at risk beaches from Florida to New Jersey, marine life such as the right whales, sea turtles, and dolphins; and thriving tourism and fishing industries that contribute more than $4 billion in total economic activity. The updated version released today removes the Atlantic lease areas from the plan. Below is a statement from Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey:

“This is a great day for the Jersey Shore because the entire Atlantic Coast and our beaches dodged an oily bullet. President Obama listened to the chorus of grassroots opposition to off-shore drilling by deep-sixing this plan again. When you’re dealing with a climate crisis, the first rule is stop drilling the hole deeper. The Atlantic Coast – and the Jersey Shore – should never have been potential sacrifice zones. As summer beckons, the President ensured his legacy will not include a future BP-like disaster oil-slicking our beaches.”

This victory couldn’t have happened without a multi-state citizen effort to derail this fossil fuel plan. Nearly six years ago, President Obama proposed Atlantic Coast drilling, which was then withdrawn in the wake of the BP disaster. The Jersey Shore and our coastal communities would have been placed in an oil bulls eye, with Cape May only 90 miles from proposed drilling off the Virginia coast. Oil spills don’t pay attention to state lines, and the Shore’s $38 billion tourism economy and our heritage was endangered.

According to the National Ocean Economics Program, ocean-related tourism and recreation generates three times the amount of economic activity Atlantic drilling was estimated to produce. Last month, a broad set of allied organizations, including our colleagues at Environment America and Surfrider Foundation allies, presented Obama officials with letters signed by more than 1,000 East Coast businesses opposed to the drilling proposal. More than a hundred coastal towns and cities, including every town on the South Carolina coast and all but five on the North Carolina coast, have passed resolutions against offshore drilling and seismic testing. Citizens also turned out in droves to oppose the drilling plan, with more than 1,400 people, the vast majority against drilling, attending public meetings last year, including a hearing early last March in Atlantic City.

Sen. Bob Menendez, Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6) deserve special kudos for their robust opposition and clear calls to the White House to eliminate Atlantic Coast drilling from the proposed plan, which included an impromptu rally in Asbury Park along the boardwalk on warm January Sunday, along with our allies Clean Ocean Action, Surfrider Foundation and the New Jersey Sierra Club.

While the administration took the Atlantic out of its proposed program, new lease areas for drilling remain in the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Last month, environmental groups presented the administration with 2 million signatures from citizens across the country, urging protection for not only the Atlantic, but the Arctic and the remaining unleased portions of the gulf as well.

We applaud President Obama for protecting our beaches and Atlantic Ocean from drilling and spilling. But to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we must keep the vast majority of oil, coal, and gas beneath the sea and in the ground. That’s why we urge the president to meet the Paris climate accord and his new agreement with Canada, and take all new drilling off the table.”