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U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (both-D-Md.) and Ben Cardin have joined three dozen U.S. Senators, including Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in sharply criticizing the Trump administration’s decision to reopen offshore drilling leases three years ahead of schedule. This decision puts vast stretches of coastline along Maryland’s Atlantic coast at risk.

“Allowing drilling off our coasts directly threatens some of Maryland’s key economic drivers, such as fishing and tourism, with the risk of an oil spill,” said Senator Van Hollen, a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Offshore oil spills don’t respect state boundaries and a spill off the coast of one state could easily do grave harm to another. With U.S. oil production at record high levels, this move is both reckless and unnecessary – and deeply unpopular. It was bad enough that President Trump gave huge windfall tax breaks to big corporations, paid for by increasing taxes on millions of working Americans. Now he is giving a New Year’s gift to Big Oil, at the expense of our fishermen and coastal communities.”

“As someone who loves and has spent my career working to protect and improve the Chesapeake Bay, I cannot condemn the Trump Administration’s move to allow drilling along our Atlantic Coast in any stronger terms. It is both horribly irresponsible and needless, as the existing plan already allows for the leasing of more than 45 billion barrels of oil. Opening up a record 90% of federal waters to drilling will do nothing more to secure our energy future, but could do tremendous and lasting damage to Maryland’s economy and natural resources,” said Senator Cardin, a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “This move is the type of publicly unsupported action we have seen time and again, one which clearly places the interests of oil, gas, coal and mineral executives above those of average Americans.”

The Trump administration’s decision to push a rewrite of the existing 2017-2022 offshore drilling plan has wasted valuable taxpayer resources and ignored extensive community input that went into the original plan. In many locations across the country, public input urged strong protections against drilling, as coastal communities that rely on commercial fishing and tourism for their economies feared the impacts that drilling and the potential of spills could have on their ecosystems, businesses and jobs.

In addition to Cardin and Van Hollen, the letter was signed by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Coons (D-DE), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Tina Smith (D-MN), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Tim Kaine (D-VA).

The full text of the letter is below and available here.

###

January 9, 2018

The Honorable Ryan Zinke

Secretary

United States Department of the Interior

1849 C Street NW

Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Zinke:

We write in strong opposition to your agency’s misuse of taxpayer funds and agency resources to issue a draft 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program in the middle of the current 2017-2022 Five-Year Plan. This draft proposal is an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input, and we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety, and economic security for the interests of the oil industry. We urge you to abandon this effort and maintain the protections outlined in the current 2017-2022 plan.

During your confirmation hearings, you pledged to incorporate local input into the management of our nation’s public lands. Our constituents, scientific bodies, businesses, and local elected officials have already decidedly rejected efforts to expand offshore drilling that could compromise ecosystems, tourism and recreation, public safety, and marine industries. The governors of New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon, Washington, and the Attorney General of Rhode Island all are formally opposed to new leasing off their respective shores. Additionally, more than 150 municipalities on the East Coast, West Coast, and Gulf of Mexico have passed resolutions opposing offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration. The New England, Mid-Atlantic, and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, the Department of Defense, Air Force, and NASA have all weighed in expressing serious concerns or opposition to offshore exploration and drilling. More than 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have also expressed opposition to drilling in their communities.

The current 2017-2022 plan already allows leasing for more than 45 billion barrels of oil, and guarantees protections for vital resources in the Arctic, Pacific, and Atlantic. The nation’s coasts are already bearing the consequences of climate change through rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and increased storm surges and flooding. We should not open all previously closed outer continental shelf areas to fossil fuel extraction and further endanger our climate, coastlines, communities, and economies. Especially in the harsh and fragile Arctic, where your agency has predicted a 75 percent chance of a major oil spill, proposing 19 new leases is the height of irresponsibility.

We are deeply troubled by your decision to open more than 90% of the outer continental shelf to fossil fuel development and needlessly put our coastal residents, businesses, oceans, and climate at grave risk. Offering 47 leases by expanding drilling into the Arctic, Pacific, Atlantic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico waters would lock us into decades of carbon pollution, and endanger future generations and livelihood simply for short-term gain of major oil companies.

We strongly object to this draft proposal, and urge you to maintain protection for the Arctic, Pacific, Atlantic and Eastern Gulf of Mexico and for our communities.

Sincerely,

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