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Rhode Island environmentalists and elected officials say ‘No’ to Trump’s offshore drilling proposal



The Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI) held a press conference at the Rhode Island State House to declare that virtually every environmental group in the state, elected officials both Democrat and Republican, and state leaders from the fishing industry oppose President Donald Trump and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)’s proposal to lift the long-standing ban on offshore fossil fuel drilling in the coastal waters of the United States.

Over 200 people crammed themselves into the State Room, joined in opposition to the plan. The press conference was emceed by Meg Kerr, director of policy for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island) and United States Congressperson David Cicilline (Democrat, Rhode Island) introduced the New England Coastal Protection Act, which would permanently prohibit drilling for fossil fuel fuels off the New England coast.

“The Trump administration’s decision to open Rhode Island waters to offshore drilling jeopardizes the natural beauty of our coastline as well as the economic well-being of tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders who earn a living in the fishing, tourism and marine industries, among others,” said Cicilline. “That’s why I introduced legislation to block the expansion of offshore drilling in New England waters. I am extraordinarily grateful that every single member of New England’s Congressional Delegation is supporting this important legislation, and I urge everyone who cares about protecting Rhode Island’s coastline to speak up and make their voice heard.”

To provide disincentives to the oil industry in order to prevent drilling off Rhode Island’s coast, Rhode Island State Representative Lauren Carson (Democrat, District 75, Newport) and Rhode Island State Senator Dawn Euer (Democrat, District 13, Newport, Middletown) filed legislation (H7250, S2116) to ban the construction of oil terminals, platforms and any other equipment related to oil production onshore in Rhode Island, and also banning oil drilling within the first three nautical miles from the shore, which is under state jurisdiction.

“As the Ocean State, Rhode Island has a robust blue sector economy including ship building, fishing, sailing, tourism and more,” said Euer. “The state and our institutions have invested incredible resources on forward-thinking coastal policy initiatives. Opening up coastal waters to offshore drilling is short-sighted and puts our economy at great risk.

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“Offshore drilling could have disastrous effects on coastal communities like ours in Newport. Oil rigs, platforms, drilling, loud blasting, seepage and, of course, spills are all perils to the pillars of our local economy: boating, tourism, hospitality, boat building, commercial and recreational fishing, as well as our naval industry. This is a dangerous, dirty and destructive plan that would move us backward and puts Big Business ahead of small business, citizens, the environment and our sustainability on this planet.”

“I’ve worked in the environmental community for years, and I’m proud to stand against drilling off our coasts,” said Carson. “I know here in Rhode Island, people do not want to experience the explosions involved in drilling, nor do they want to be the site of the next Exxon Valdez or Deepwater Horizon-type spill. Rhode Island is home to the nation’s first offshore wind farm, and we value the progress we have been making toward reducing polluting fossil fuel use in favor of renewables. Opening up nearly all U.S. coasts to offshore drilling is an enormous leap back to the time when our energy policies turned a blind eye to pollution and unsustainability. This plan takes Rhode Island and the United States in the wrong direction.

“Offshore drilling for oil in Rhode Island would inhibit and endanger some of the industries that are part of the bedrock of our economy in Rhode Island, and particularly in Newport. It would also erode the progress we’ve made cleaning up Narragansett Bay and developing sustainable, clean energy sources, such as Deepwater Wind, the nation’s first offshore wind farm. This is nothing but a gift to big oil corporations, and we simply cannot let it happen off Rhode Island.”

“We should be focusing on harnessing our offshore wind power – not digging for oil off our coast,” said Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo. “The proposal that came out of Washington in January to open up our coastal waters to offshore drilling is terrifying. We’ve seen what happens when drilling goes wrong. It’s resulted in terrible environmental tragedies like Exxon Valdez and the BP oil spill. We can’t take that risk in Rhode Island.”

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian (Republican) said: “With 39 miles of coastline, Warwick is well aware of the fragile nature of our coastal environment. We will oppose any action that threatens the pristine beauty of our shoreline and our coast. The number of jobs that are created and sustained through Narragansett Bay have a major impact on this community and we will do all necessary to protect and preserve this resource. Offshore drilling is a threat to the Bay.”

“We represent a billion dollar income for the State of Rhode Island,” said Michael Marchetti, President of the Eastern New England Scallop Association. “That’s nothing to sneeze at, I don’t think. This industry is well worth protecting…”

“Opening New England’s waters for drilling is reckless and irresponsible,” said Amy Moses, Vice-president and Director of Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Rhode Island.Not only are these waters home to critically important fish and whale species, our region needs to move away from fossil fuels. New England is already feeling the staggering effects of climate change — changing ocean conditions chasing fish away and jeopardizing lobster and scallop populations. Adding drilling and oil spills to the mix shoves us in the wrong direction. We need to protect this precious resource from the dirty, destructive business of oil drilling, and CLF will fight to protect this precious resources every step of the way.”

The press conference was followed immediately by a march to the Marriott Hotel on Orms St, where BOEM was holding its meeting with the public.

See also:

Rhode Island environmentalists and elected officials say ‘No’ to Trump’s offshore drilling proposal

Protesters march from State House to Marriott in opposition to offshore drilling

This is what Democracy looks like: The People’s Hearing on Offshore Drilling

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.