R.I. Wants to Speak with Zinke About Offshore Drilling

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Florida recently received an exemption from a new plan to revive offshore drilling and other states, including Rhode Island, hope to receive the same treatment from the Department of Interior.

Gov. Gina Raimondo's office spoke with the Department of Interior on Jan. 10 to schedule a call with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. No date and time for that call have been announced.

After traveling to Florida to meet Gov. Rick Scott, Zinke removed the state form a proposal to open federal waters off the East and West coasts and Alaska to oil and gas drilling.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke said in a press release.

Zinke made the Florida decision five days after a Jan. 4 announcement of a sweeping proposal to expand drilling in areas long closed to fossil-fuel extraction, including in many prime commercial fishing grounds. Most of these proposed zones are in federal waters that typically begin just 3 miles off the coast.

Condemnation of the proposal was swift, with bipartisan opposition from governors of coastal states who see the same risks that Florida raised. Many governors threatened to sue the Department of Interior over the proposal, including Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, is the only governor from a coastal state to support the offshore drilling proposal.

The Department of Interior said governors are welcome to meet with Zinke to plead their case. So far, North Carolina and South Carolina had made requests to meet. Raimondo is seeking a phone call.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said he also opposes the drilling proposal, but didn't respond to inquiries about seeking an exemption from the Department of Interior or a meeting with Zinke.

Political pundits claim the Florida exemption was a gift to Scott by President Trump who is urging the Republican governor to run for the U.S. Senate this year.

Details of the proposal will be open to public scrutiny during public workshops that begin this month and run through Feb. 28. Providence hosts a meeting Jan. 25 at the Marriott hotel, 1 Orms St., from 3-7 p.m. Boston hosts a meeting Jan. 24 and Hartford hosts a meeting Feb. 13. The meetings offer one-on-one conversations with industry experts and scientists from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Public comment will be accepted in writing at the meetings but there will be no town hall-style open discussions with an audience.

Public comments are being accepted online through March.

Local and national environmental groups uniformly oppose the drilling plan.

“At a time when offshore wind projects are gaining traction in our region, the last thing our coastal environment needs is oil drilling and all of the risks that go with it,” according to Providence-based Save The Bay. “Rhode Island has seen its share of petroleum disasters, including the 1989 grounding of World Prodigy on Brenton Reef and the 1996 North Cape oil spill off of Moonstone Beach.”