Maryland leaders rally against offshore oil drilling

The Trump Administration’s new offshore drilling policy could put hundreds of millions of dollars of blue crabs at risk, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation president said at a rally Tuesday.

While the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held a meeting inside the Doubletree hotel in Annapolis on Tuesday, elected officials and local environmental leaders promised to stop their efforts for offshore oil drilling off Maryland’s coast at a rally in a separate ballroom of the hotel.

Citizens holding signs provided by the rally’s organizers stood behind elected officials and business leaders while they promised to do everything they can to stop oil drilling from affecting Chesapeake Bay waters.

The Trump administration announced plans on Jan 4. for a new five-year program that would open more than 90 percent of U.S. waters to oil and gas developments. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, who called the plan “a new path for energy dominance in America,” announced Florida’s waters would be excluded from these plans on Jan. 10, citing costal tourism as Florida’s “economic driver.”

American Energy Alliance president Thomas J. Pyle told the New York Times the policy was long overdue.

“I think the default should be that all of our offshore areas should be available,” Pyle told the Times. “These are our lands. They’re taxpayer-owned and they should be made available.”

Half a billion blue crabs would be put at risk under the new policy, according to Chesapeake Bay Foundation President Will Baker.

“One oil spill at the wrong time at the wrong place could wipe out an entire year’s class of Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, several hundred million dollars worth, and all the jobs that associate with it,” Baker said.

Annapolis Ward 7 Councilman Rob Savidge said as sea levels rise around Annapolis, the Chesapeake Bay can’t afford another environmental strain. Savidge said he’d be part of a team making Annapolis the 142nd U.S. city to offer a resolution opposing offshore drilling.

Ocean City Mayor Richard Meehan read from a resolution passed in 1974, which served as the model for a similar resolution in 2015 opposing off-shore drilling in Ocean City’s waters.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen sent a statement saying he will fight the new policy as it endangers the tourism and fishing economy.

“Our beaches and wildlife are vital treasures that should not be put at risk to boost the profits of Big Oil,” Van Hollen wrote.

Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Mark Belton read a letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management stating the policy poses a threat to the department’s priority of protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, who also opposed offshore drilling under the Obama administration, expressed his frustration.

“It’s hard to know what to say except ‘Here they go again.’” Frosh said. “Maryland has engaged in heroic efforts to protect the Bay, not just from oil drilling but from all sorts of pollution...to see the oil companies knocking at the door again is just frighting, especially aided by the Trump administration. They want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. We’re going to fight this plan with everything we’ve got.”

After the rally, Environmental Policy Analyst Will Nuckols said policy also endangers national security as it effects NASA and Naval Air Station Oceana missions, opening up areas to off-shore drilling the military barred under the last administration.

“I have never seen anything this silly before,” Nuckols said. “When you send things into space you need a large area of open water where no one lives or works. That’s what makes that mission possible in Maryland. The things that we throw out of space come from here. The only place for Oceana fighter jets in Virginia get to train is in an area off the Atlantic coast. You can’t move the military mission and say ‘Go fly somewhere else,’ because they want to do oil and gas exploration. It has to happen there.”

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