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Environment: Drilling foes have hopes for permanent ban

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Opponents of oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean are hoping President Obama will sign a permanent ban before he leaves office in January. The environmental group Oceana says it could happen this week.

“That’s the best of all possible news,” said Peg Howell of North Litchfield, a co-founder of the local group Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic. “We’ve all been sending letters to the president encouraging this very thing.”

Frank Knapp, a South Carolina businessman and co-founder of the 35,000-member Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, expects the new Republican-controlled Congress to push for more oil drilling, including the Atlantic. “President Obama has the opportunity to take this off the table forever,” Knapp said.

U.S. law allows presidents to permanently ban offshore drilling from areas that have not been permitted. “Don’t make us come back and fight this every couple years," he said. “There is no business organization, no individual business, no residential community along the Atlantic Coast that wants offshore drilling.”

Trump’s top choice for Interior Secretary is U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana, a 55-year-old ex-Navy SEAL commander and recipient of two Bronze Stars for combat missions in Iraq and a Trump supporter. He’s faced criticism from environmental and conservation groups since joining the House in 2015.

Howell said Obama has the authority to ban drilling in the Atlantic under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Ending the possibility of drilling should stop seismic testing of the Atlantic, too, she said. The courts have ruled against the Obama Administration’s efforts to block oil drilling onshore. This would be the first ban on offshore drilling and will likely end up in the courts.

We don’t mind a fight,” said Jean Marie Neal of North Litchfield, spokeswoman for Stop Oil Drilling in the Atlantic. “We hope the President will take the permanent ban step. Sure, that will be challenged. But this is our God-given natural heritage, and we must preserve it.”

Without the permanent ban, environmentalists are worrying that Trump will try and change the decision to delay leasing until 2022. Howell said it would take at least two years to issue new oil leasing proposals unless Trump is able to get Congress to undo all regulations.

Knapp said the ban would be part of Obama’s legacy. “The states along the coast do not want it,” he said. “It would be a terrible legacy for President Obama to allow something to go forward in the future for debate and possibly the decision to drill because of a handful of governors who are no longer there to push it. The public has spoken. Communities and residents spoke: 12,000 from Maine to Florida. There is no demand for this except from the petroleum industry.”

Knapp is hopeful that Trump’s ownership of property on the Atlantic Coast in Florida will give him pause about opening up offshore drilling. “Do you think he wants oil washing up on the beaches in front of his place? Really? I can’t speak to what he believes personally, but I can tell you incoming Gov. Henry McMaster has already come out against it. He has the ear of the president-elect.”

(This article was corrected from the print version to put the alliance membership at 35,000 rather than 12,000.)

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