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offshore drilling

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin. Flie photo by Alex Petroski

If it wasn’t clear following six hours of Valentine’s Day testimony, the usual suspects were at it once again delivering a unified message against the possibility of offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

Representatives from the United States Department of the Interior were at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2 to hear public comments from lawmakers across the political spectrum demand its proposed plan to expand natural gas and oil drilling along coastal waters be scrapped. The Feb. 14 hearing, which did not feature departmental participation, was held in the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge, an alternative to the federal bureau’s original plan for a single public hearing in Albany that took place the next day. Long Island lawmakers vehemently pushed back on the single upstate hearing, demanding at least one downstate hearing due to the impact such a plan might have locally.

Though the interior didn’t hear the first batch of testimony on Long Island in February, State Assemblyman and Committee on Environmental Conservation Chairman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said a transcript of the entire meeting would be submitted as written public comment on the proposal. Neither of the two local hearings featured a single speaker in favor of proceeding with offshore drilling off the coast of Long Island.

Lawmakers wait for an opportunity to speak in opposition to an offshore drilling plan during a hearing at Brookhaven Town Hall March 2. Photo by Alex Petroski

First District U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) played a vital role in securing the hearing in his home district, calling the initial one-Albany-hearing plan “unacceptable” Friday.

Zeldin and others reiterated the fact that there currently is not evidence to suggest the resources that would be drilled for currently exist off the coast of Long Island, in addition to the hazardous impact the plan would have on marine life. The congressman stopped short of joining lawmakers to his political left in calling for investment in renewable sources of energy as opposed to more drilling for oil and gas, though he has voted for such legislation in the past.

“Drilling in the ocean for gas or oil is foolhardy,” Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said during his remarks. “We should be looking at alternative energy. This is not a Republican or Democrat issue — it’s a common-sense issue.”

In the Jan. 4 announcement, Ryan Zinke, secretary of the interior, said developing resources on the Outer Continental Shelf would provide billions of dollars to fund the conservation of coastlines, public lands and park.

“The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” Zinke said in the statement.

Public comments on the proposal can be submitted on the department’s website through March 9 by visiting https://www.boem.gov/National-Program-Comment/#submitcomments.

Notable quotes from the March 2 hearing:

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment: “Here on Long Island, we are a maritime community. We grow up with one foot in the water, one foot on the land — a fishing pole in one hand and a crab trap in the other. That’s who we are. You might think we love living on Long Island because we love the taxes, or we just love traffic, but that’s not it. We love living by the water. It’s what makes us live here.”

Carrie Meek Gallagher, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 1 director: “Seismic surveys necessary for oil and gas resource exploration include air gun blasts every 10 to 20 seconds, 24 hours per day for weeks to months at a time. The low frequency, high energy sound they produce is harmful to marine mammals, including numerous endangered whales that are present off our coast.”

Assemblyman Steve Englebright: “New York has committed to meeting future energy goals though clean, renewable sources like wind and solar. The state is working to shape an energy portfolio that moves away from carbon pollution toward renewable resources that will help mitigate the impacts of climate change in coastal communities from sea level rise to more extreme and frequent storms. The federal proposal is incompatible with that.”

Christine Pellegrino (D), New York State Assembly 9th District, Environmental Conservation Committee: “Our communities were devastated by Hurricane Sandy, and five years later we’re still not whole. Natural disasters can greatly increase the chance of a spill. Are you willing to risk our island, because I am not. Environmental groups warn that just opening the door to oil drilling in pristine federal lands and waters could lead to more tragic spills like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that dumped more than 4 million barrels of oil over an 87-day period before it was capped.”

Kevin McCallister, founder and president Defend H2O: “It’s not a question of if [an oil spill will happen], but it’s a question of when and where. Unlike some from New York certainly concerned about Long Island, I submit that we’ve got to keep [offshore drilling] off the entire East Coast. I think this is obviously regression when we should be moving toward renewables. To really slip back in time in environmental intelligence is quite concerning.”

Kristen Jarnagin, Discover Long Island president and CEO: “Tourism on Long Island is a $5.6 billion industry. It supports more than 100,000 local jobs. Tourism is much more than vacationers enjoying our pristine beaches. More than 80 percent of our tourism industry is made up of small business — hotels, restaurants, transportation companies, boutique owners, wineries, farmers and the endless indirect businesses that thrive on the success of our industry including banks, audio/visual companies, landscapers, lawyers, attorneys and much more … Overnight that could all change, and those revenues and jobs can be stripped from the economy if not protected.”

This post was updated March 5 to include U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin’s prior support for legislation directed toward researching renewable energy.

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