Politics & Government

Actors, coastal leaders urge Obama to pull Atlantic drilling plans

Actors and Ocean Advocates Ted Danson, Kate Walsh and Sam Waterston, left to right, attend Oceana’s Coastal Voices Summit at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on January 26, 2016. All three will join coastal leaders in Washington to urge President Barack Obama to abandon his plan to open the Atlantic Ocean to industrial offshore drilling.
Actors and Ocean Advocates Ted Danson, Kate Walsh and Sam Waterston, left to right, attend Oceana’s Coastal Voices Summit at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., on January 26, 2016. All three will join coastal leaders in Washington to urge President Barack Obama to abandon his plan to open the Atlantic Ocean to industrial offshore drilling. McClatchy

Actress Kate Walsh teamed up with 50 coastal leaders for a day of lobbying Wednesday on Capitol Hill, asking federal officials to protect the Atlantic coast from the offshore drilling exploration included in the Obama administration’s new plan. They also met with the White House and the Department of the Interior, which plans to hold a lease sale for the Atlantic in 2021.

The two-day Coastal Voices Summit, organized by conservation group Oceana, had kicked off Tuesday at George Washington University in Washington with over 100 coastal leaders as well as celebrities involved with the group, including Ted Danson, known for his role in TV’s “Cheers,” Sam Waterston of “Law & Order” and Walsh from “Grey’s Anatomy.”

“It has only been six years since the Gulf oil spill, and it seems as if our government has forgotten that it ever occurred,” Walsh said at the event. “Everywhere we’ve drilled, we’ve spilled, and it’s time to stop this dirty and dangerous cycle before it starts in the Atlantic. It’s time for President Obama to say no to East Coast drilling.”

The small businesses of South Carolina understand that allowing offshore drilling in the Atlantic would be a disastrous business decision for states with economies dependent on coastal tourism.

Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce

They were joined by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and local and state elected officials. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., who represents a coastal district that includes Charleston and who has been vocal about his opposition to Atlantic offshore drilling, was scheduled to attend but had to change his travel plans after a blizzard shut down much of the East Coast last weekend.

Charleston, like 100 other municipalities along the Atlantic coast, has formally opposed drilling off its shores despite a proposed 50-mile buffer along the coastline within which drilling would be prohibited.

“Atlantic coastal towns have turned ‘Drill, baby, drill’ into ‘Stop the drill,’ and that rallying cry is getting louder along the East Coast,” Oceana Vice President Jacqueline Savitz told the summit Tuesday.

102 East Coast municipalities, 100 members of Congress, over 660 state and local elected officials and roughly 750 business interests have all publicly opposed offshore drilling, citing threats to marine life, coastal communities and local economies.

The Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management is expected to release its finalized five-year plan for offshore oil and gas drilling leases by March, including – for the first time in 30 years – the waters off South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. Coastal communities and environmental groups have been fighting state leaders who argue that opening the coast to offshore drilling is not only safe but also would bring jobs and billions in revenue to their states.

The governors of the four states under consideration have asked the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management to be included in the plan. But others don’t want drilling to move forward.

“Recently, we delivered a letter to (South Carolina) Gov. Nikki Haley that was signed by over 430 small-business owners asking her to change her position and oppose offshore drilling,” Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said at the Tuesday event.

Over 68,000 jobs in South Carolina depend on ocean sectors such as tourism, shipbuilding, fishing and marine transportation, according to a report by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

“The hundreds of thousands of jobs dependent on a healthy tourism economy are dependent on a healthy ocean,” Knapp said. “No small business owner or CEO of a Fortune 500 company, other than the petroleum industry, would risk their successful business by starting an incompatible side business. Only foolish politicians would even think of doing such a thing.”

In an effort to change the politicians’ minds, Walsh and coastal leaders met with 30 congressional offices on Wednesday, including those of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C, and Sanford.

South Carolina’s coastal leaders have played a large role in Oceana’s anti-drilling efforts. Sanford and Charleston City Council member Mike Seekings are prominently featured in the organization’s “Protect Our Coast” campaign video.

“As a trained petroleum engineer and former roustabout on offshore drilling rigs, I can tell you firsthand that working on the rigs is a risky job,” Peg Howell, a former oil company employee and spokesperson for Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic, based in Pawleys Island, S.C, said Tuesday. “I’ve also seen firsthand what offshore drilling does to coastal communities, and I will tell you that it has no place along the Atlantic coast. This is a forever decision.”

Vera Bergengruen: 202-383-6036, @verambergen

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