In shift, Rep. Harris says he opposes drilling off Maryland's coast, but supports it elsewhere

After previously saying he supports President Donald Trump's plans to expand offshore drilling, Rep. Andy Harris is opposing such energy projects off Maryland's coast because of opposition in Ocean City and other communities.

Last month, the Trump administration unveiled its plans to expand drilling off the coast of California, in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard, from Maine to Florida. At the time, the proposal drew criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans, including Gov. Larry Hogan.

But Harris, the state’s lone Republican representative in Washington, did not weigh in on the possibility of drilling off Maryland’s coast, simply saying he supported oil and gas exploration and production “if it can be done in an environmentally safe manner.”

“You can't underestimate the geopolitical significance of America being the world's largest energy producer,” he told The Baltimore Sun on Jan. 4.

In recent town hall events, Harris has come out against any such project near Maryland’s beaches, though. He has also previously spoken out against wind energy projects off Maryland’s shores — and sought to help block them — because many in Ocean City fear they would reduce tourism.

"Identical to my position on offshore wind within 26 miles of the coast, since the local jurisdictions oppose any drilling off the Ocean City coast, I will oppose any efforts to drill off the Maryland coast,” Harris said in a statement Friday.

Harris joins a growing number of Republicans who have opposed the Trump administration on offshore drilling. After Florida Gov. Rick Scott raised concerns to the administration, officials agreed to take drilling near that state’s coast off the table.

In phone calls with federal Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Hogan has asked to keep Maryland’s shores free of energy development, too. And he has asked Attorney General Brian Frosh to explore legal opposition to the Trump administration’s plans.

Kathy Phillips, the Assateague Coastkeeper and executive director of the Assateague Coastal Trust environmental advocacy group, said she was relieved by Harris’ clarification.

“The concerns of Maryland’s First District were heard clearly and I’m certain his constituents are appreciative that their support for clean beaches, clean water and a healthy coastal economy is also shared by Representative Harris,” she said in a statement.

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