U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) today urged his colleagues to take up and pass legislation he and others filed earlier this year to block the Trump administration from opening up additional areas to offshore oil drilling until at least 2022.
The move comes amid reports that the Trump administration is planning to unveil a new five-year oil and gas leasing plan that would open up the entire Atlantic coast to drilling. This new five-year plan, which would go into effect in 2019, would replace the current five-year plan not set to expire until 2022.
“The Trump administration is about to give a huge early Christmas present to the oil industry,” Nelson said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “The Department of Interior is preparing to unveil a new five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing – one that would open up the entire Atlantic coast.”
In April, Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to open up new areas to offshore drilling by altering the current five-year oil and gas leasing plan that took effect earlier this year and doesn’t expire until 2022. In response, Nelson and others filed legislation that would prohibit Zinke from making any changes to the current five-year plan before it expires.
“I urge our colleagues to take up the bill filed earlier this year … that would block an attempt by the administration to open our coasts to oil drilling.” Nelson said. “The stakes are extremely high for the economies of our states.”
Nelson, a long-time opponent of having oil rigs too close to Florida’s coast, often cites the state’s unique environment, its multi-billion dollar, tourism-driven economy and the vital national military training areas as reasons why drilling should not be allowed near Florida’s coast.
In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez successfully brokered a deal to ban drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast through the year 2022. Nelson filed legislation earlier this year to extend that ban an additional five years, to 2027.
“Why is the Department of Interior in such a rush?,” Nelson said. “Because the oil industry wants to start drilling in these areas now, and the Trump administration is going to let them do it.”
Full text of the legislation Nelson filed earlier this year can be found here.
Video of Nelson’s speech on the Senate floor today is available here.
Here’s a rush transcript of his remarks:
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
December 12, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, there are all kinds of reports swirling around Washington, and we’re hearing those reports that the Trump administration is about to give a huge early Christmas present to the oil industry, because the reports are that the Department of the Interior is preparing to unveil a new five-year plan for offshore oil and gas drilling, one that would open up the entire Atlantic coast of the United States to drilling.
This new five-year plan, which would go into effect in 2019, would replace the current five-year plan which was finalized last year and doesn’t expire until 2022. So why is the Department of Interior in such a rush to waste taxpayers’ money to write a new one? Because the answer is because the oil industry wants to start drilling in these areas now, and the Trump administration is going to let them do it.
While it hasn’t been released yet, we are hearing that the administration’s new plan will open up the entire Atlantic coast to offshore drilling from Maine as far south as Cape Canaveral.
But, Mr. President, let me show you why that’s a problem. This is the east coast of the United States. This is Maine. This is Florida. This is Cape Canaveral. This is Fort Pierce, Florida. Look what happens in the Atlantic coast off of the eastern continental United States. These are all military testing areas. Every one of these hatched areas — every one of these blocks — are places that have limited access because of military testing.
So take, for example, all of this area off the east coast of Florida. There’s a place called Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. There’s a place called the Kennedy Space Center. We are launching commercial and military rockets, and within another year and a half we will be launching rockets, American rockets with American astronauts that, just like the space shuttle before them, will go to and from the International Space Station carrying crew as well as the cargo that it already carries.
Well, when you’re launching it to the International Space Station, or in two years we launch the largest rocket ever from the Kennedy Space Center, the forerunner to the Mars program, taking humans to Mars, where do you think the first stages, or in the case of the new mars rocket called the SLS, the Space Launch System, where do you think it drops its Solid Rocket Boosters? Precisely. Out here, which is exactly why you can’t have oil rigs out here.
Where do you think that all of the commercial rockets coming out of Cape Canaveral right now that put up the host of communication satellites, that is a constellation of satellites, how do you think we get our pinpoint GPS here on earth? Many of those rockets are coming right out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and increasingly, the commercial activity at the Kennedy Space Center, which is located with the Cape Canaveral air force station.
Or what about all of those scientific satellites that are out there that give us precise measurements on what’s happening to the climate so that when we then track hurricanes, we know precisely and have such great success in predicting the path and the ferocity of a hurricane. All of those rockets are coming out of Cape Canaveral, and they have first stages. And when the first stages burn out, they have to fall someplace. You can’t have oil and gas production out here.
And so the same would be off of Norfolk, Virginia. They also have a launching point there for NASA –Wallops Island — but in the Norfolk area, all of the military that does its training out in the Atlantic, you’re going to have a whole disruption.
Or take, for example, all of the military assets — spy satellites that go into orbit rocketed out of Cape Canaveral, those first stages when burned out have to fall. And that’s why you have a location like Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launching from west to east to get that extra boost of the earth’s rotation. Therefore, less fuel to get to orbit. This is the prime location.
You can’t put oil and gas out here. You can’t have oil rigs off of Cape Canaveral where all of these military NASA and commercial rockets as well as governmental payloads that are not military are going.
So we have heard the loud opposition of the department of defense, chambers of commerce, fishermen and coastal communities all along the Atlantic who weighed in against the administration’s plan to allow drilling off their coast.
We thought we had put this puppy to bed last year when the Obama administration backed off its plans to have these drilling areas. They backed off because of the opposition. They also backed off when it came to Florida. Why? Florida has more beaches than any other state. We don’t have as much coastline. Alaska has the greatest coastline. But last time I checked, Alaska didn’t have a lot of beaches. The one that is blessed with the beautiful beaches is Florida. And when it comes to beaches, that means people want to go to the beach. That means there is a significant tourism-driven economy.
Well, we learned what happened when just the threat of oil on the beach — remember the Deep Water Horizon oil explosion off of Louisiana? Let me show you so that you don’t get confused with all these colors, but in essence all of this yellow over on the other side of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, this area is off limits and it’s in law. And it’s a good thing, because when the deep water horizon spilled off of Louisiana and the wind shifted, and that oil started drifting to the east, and it got as far as Pensacola Beach, and it completely blackened the white sugary sands. And that photograph went all over the world. Pensacola beach is covered up in oil, and the winds kept carrying it forward, and some of it got into Choctawhatchee Bay and the sands of Destin and got as far east as some of the tar balls in Panama City Beach. And then the winds shifted and carried it back. That was the extent of the oil on the beach.
But for one solid year, a tourist year, the tourists did not come to the west coast of Florida because they had seen those pictures of what had happened to Pensacola Beach. All the way down the west coast the Tampa Bay area, the Sarasota, the Fort Myers area, the Naples, Marco Island, the tourists did not come.
And, so, when it comes to Florida, now let’s go back to the Atlantic. You start to do this, you are now threatening the lifeblood of Florida’s economy, its tourism-driven economy. It’s not only a threat to the environment, but it’s a threat to the multibillion-dollar tourism-driven economy.
And so we lost in 2010 an entire season that the tourists did not come to the west coast of Florida. And so that’s why when I gave the list of all those entities, including the U.S. Department of Defense, they don’t want it because of the military areas.
But I also said chambers of commerce. Well, they have awakened to the fact that oil on beaches is a killer of our economy. And thus, it’s not unusual that you will start to see local governments, when this plan is announced later today probably, you will see local governments spring into action, like the Broward County Board of Commissioners has already sent letters opposing drilling off of Florida’s coast.
Floridians understand this issue. That’s why in the past we’ve had such bipartisan agreement all over Florida. Republicans and Democrats alike to keep drilling off of our coast.
But if Big Oil gets its way, every inch of the outer continental shelf is going to be drilled. We saw what happened less than a decade ago, and the scientists would say that we’re still uncovering, for example, the full extent of that BP oil spill and its damage.
So I urge our colleagues to take up the bill filed earlier this year with this senator, Senator Markey and others, that would block an attempt by the administration to open up our coasts to oil drilling.
The stakes are extremely high for the economy of our states all along the eastern coast. Georgia has a substantial tourism-driven economy. You know South Carolina does: Myrtle Beach. What about North Carolina? What about Virginia’s tourism-driven economy? But especially all the military concentration there. And you could go right on up the coast.
Mr. President, the stakes are exceptionally high. We simply can’t risk it.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is leading a group of Senate Democrats in calling on the administration to hold public hearings and give the public more time to review and comment on NOAA’s proposal this week that would open the door to allowing seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast.
“On June 6, 2017, NOAA released a proposal to approve five applications submitted by companies seeking to conduct seismic airgun blasts along the Atlantic Coast,” Nelson and others wrote in a letter today to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “This was done with little notice, an extremely short public comment period, and no scheduled public hearings.”
The lawmakers, after noting that these applications had been denied by NOAA just five months earlier, went on to say, “in the interest of transparency, government accountability, and meaningful public participation, we urge you to extend the comment period for these activities to at least 150 days, conduct public community meetings, and clarify key elements of the proposal.”
In addition to Nelson, the letter was also signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
Below is the full text of the senators’ letter, and a PDF copy is available here.
June 9, 2017
The Honorable Wilbur Ross
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Secretary Ross,
This week, we celebrated World Oceans Day. At a time when the global community should be discussing new ways to protect the marine environment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) instead announced a proposal to issue five authorizations that could seriously affect coastal economies along the entire Atlantic seaboard. This was done with little notice, an extremely short public comment period, and no scheduled public hearings. And possibly most problematic, these applications were declined by NOAA just five months ago. In the interest of transparency, government accountability, and meaningful public participation, we urge you to extend the comment period for these activities to at least 150 days, conduct public community meetings, and clarify key elements of the proposal.
On June 6, 2017, NOAA released a proposal to approve five applications submitted by companies seeking to conduct seismic airgun blasts along the Atlantic Coast, authorizing the harassment of marine mammals during the course of their surveys for oil and gas deposits. The Federal Register notice allows for only 30 days of public comment on a complex 91-page document proposing to authorize five separate activities with the potential to harm marine mammals.
For context, in July 2015, when NOAA announced the receipt of seismic applications, it solicited 30 days of public comment on a 2-page document. During that time, 720 pages of unique public comments were submitted to NOAA—many with significant scientific and economic concerns and outright opposition to issuance of approval to harass marine mammals.
And as of today, 125 Atlantic Coast communities, over 1,200 elected officials, and an alliance representing over 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed seismic airgun blasting and/or offshore drilling. The Mid- and South Atlantic Fishery Management Councils, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Defense, and the Florida Defense Support Task Force have also expressed concern about ongoing and future oil and gas operations.
Furthermore, the proposal itself is confusing and vague. We urge you to issue clarification on several important topics. For example, the Federal Register notice includes two applications that NOAA has not previously included in a public notice of receipt, and does not include a map showing each of the five applications proposed to be approved. Also, one of the applications has changed names since it was first filed. To allow for relevant, timely, and thorough public comment on the proposal, it is essential that NOAA publish clear maps for each application, and each application should be cited using a consistent name.
Finally, despite the potential to affect coastal resources along the entire East Coast, it does not appear that NOAA intends to conduct any public meetings. We find this lack of stakeholder outreach unacceptable. We would expect that NOAA would conduct public meetings in each of the states most likely to be impacted by this activity, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.
The Marine Mammal Commission wrote in 2015 that in considering these kinds of surveys, NOAA should minimize duplication, address inconsistencies in the estimates of marine mammals that would be impacted, and fully evaluate and monitor whether proposed mitigation measures are likely to be successful. NOAA’s current proposed approvals do not address these recommendations.
The science suggests that airgun surveys themselves have the potential to cause significant harm, and could jeopardize the continued existence of the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale. Given the widespread and strong public interest in this issue, it is essential that NOAA provide thorough and transparent information, and a reasonable opportunity for the public to participate in the review process.