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23 Senators urge Zinke to hold new hearings taking ‘formal oral testimony’ on offshore drilling



A letter from 23 United States Senators, including Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island) and Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island) was sent to Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior, to urge an extension of the March 9 deadline to submit comments on the Draft Proposed Program (DPP) for the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024, otherwise known as offshore drilling. The Senators want the public comment period extended to May 8 at the earliest.

Perhaps picking up a cue from a protest in Rhode Island, where opponents of offshore drilling held “The People’s Hearing on Offshore Drilling” in response to an “open house” or science fair style meeting where people speak privately with officials from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Senators also requested formal oral testimony at future hearings.

People’s Hearing organizer Justin Boyan, co-founder of Climate Action Rhode Island – 350 Rhode Island, called BOEM’s current meeting structure “a sham.”

“We planned The People’s Hearing to allow civic leaders, experts, and residents to voice their concerns for all to hear,” said Boyan. “We will defend not only our coast and our climate, but also our democracy and our freedoms.”

In the letter, the Senators maintain that, “The opportunity for the public to provide input on the Draft Proposed Program is critical given the new, large scope of the Draft Proposed Program and its potential impacts on coastal communities and economies, the marine environment, and climate. We do not believe that the 23 currently announced ‘open house’ style meetings are adequate in duration, location, nor format needed to meet the public input requirements. Several of the public meetings were postponed and rescheduled later in the public comment period, which does not leave adequate time for stakeholders to learn details about the DPP at the public meeting and submit meaningful comments before the comment period ends.”

The letter goes on to recommend, “more meetings in coastal communities, large and small, in all areas included in the Draft Proposed Program, as well as non-coastal areas to allow for as many impacted voices as possible to raise their concerns. In addition, formal oral testimony, as opposed to an ‘open house’ format, would better ensure that people’s concerns are heard and recorded publicly.”

Tim DeChristopher, Co-Founder of the Climate Disobedience Center and co-organizer of the People’s Hearing, rejected the format of BOEM’s meeting. ”Since public discourse is the bedrock of any Democracy, we’re excited to create this space where our voices can be heard, can be shared, where we can listen to other people in our community, and we can actually get to know how Rhode Islanders feel about offshore drilling here and everywhere else on our coastal waters around the country.”

You can read the letter here.

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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.