ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.-- Atlantic Coast communities won a major victory today, when the Obama administration abandoned its plans to open the southern Atlantic to offshore oil and gas drilling for the first time in decades.
“Just as Atlantic coast communities and businesses have been saying for the last year, ‘when you drill you spill,’” said Jennifer Rubiello, Environment Florida state director. “Today President Obama heard them, and protected marine life, world famous beaches, and family vacations from the Mid-Atlantic to Jacksonville.”
Announced last January, the initial 2017 to 2022 Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan put at risk beaches from Virginia to North Carolina, marine life such as the right whales, sea turtles, and dolphins; and thriving tourism and fishing industries that contribute more than $4 billion in total economic activity. The updated version released today completely removes the Atlantic lease areas from the plan.
Opposition to the drilling proposal had been building for months, particularly among coastal towns and businesses – who view the prospect of offshore oil and gas rigs as a threat to beaches, fisheries, and the Atlantic’s coastal economy.
According to the National Ocean Economics Program, ocean-related tourism and recreation generates three times the amount of economic activity Atlantic drilling is estimated to produce.
Last month Environment Florida and colleagues presented Obama officials with letters signed by more than 1,000 East Coast businesses opposed to the drilling proposal.
More than a hundred coastal towns and cities, including over 35 in Florida, have passed resolutions against offshore drilling and seismic testing.
“We know first hand the devastating economic and environmental damage an oil spill can have on communities, even far away” said Darden Rice, Vice Chair of the St. Petersburg City Council. “We’re relieved the president today protected the beaches and towns on the Atlantic and across the Southeast.”
Citizens also turned out in droves to oppose the drilling plan, with more than 1400 people, the vast majority against drilling, attending public meetings last year.
While the administration took the Atlantic out of its proposed program, new lease areas for drilling remain in the Arctic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Last month, environmental groups presented the administration with 2 million signatures from citizens across the country, urging protection for not only the Atlantic, but the Arctic and the remaining unleased portions of the gulf as well.
“We applaud the president for protecting our beaches and coastal way of life from drilling and spilling,” said Rubiello. “But to avoid the worst impacts of global warming, we must keep the vast majority of oil, coal, and gas beneath the sea and in the ground. That’s why we urge the president to meet the Paris climate accord and his new agreement with Canada, and take all new drilling off the table.”