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Northam wants Virginia exempted from Trump’s offshore drilling plan

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In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Gov.-elect Ralph Northam requested Thursday that Virginia be excluded from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) plans to expand offshore drilling off of all U.S. waters. The request follows Zinke’s announcement that Florida will be exempted from the plan.

“I grew up on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and can tell you firsthand that the Chesapeake Bay and the commonwealth’s ocean and coastal resources are every bit as ecologically and economically valuable as those of Florida, a state that was recently exempted from the leasing plan,” Northam said in the letter.  “I am encouraged by the decision to exempt Florida from the plan, and respectfully ask that the same exemption be made for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Northam pointed out that nearly half of the economy of the Hampton Roads region is tied to its military assets. “Less than two years ago, the Department of Defense raised material objections to the incompatibility of drilling with naval operations off Virginia’s coast. Nothing should be done to jeopardize our strong position with the military in Virginia.”

Northam also calls on the agency to allow Virginians to participate in a series of hearings that will include the Hampton Roads and Eastern Shore before the public comment period ends on March 9. Currently, BOEM has proposed a single public meeting to take place in Richmond, nearly 100 miles from the coastal communities.

“The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act specifically gives weight to the opinions of the governors in coastal states where leases are considered. A bipartisan coalition of governors — including the governors of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida — have expressed opposition to drilling for oil and gas off of their coasts. I hope Virginians will be afforded an opportunity to have their voices heard and to avoid the adverse impacts associated with offshore drilling,” Northam wrote.

Earlier this month, Northam released a statement condemning the Trump administration’s plans to expand offshore drilling. “Expanding offshore drilling unnecessarily jeopardizes our economy, environment, national security, and the health and safety of our residents. All it takes is one exploration gone wrong to do immeasurable harm to major economic drivers including tourism, fishing, aquaculture, and our military installations,” he said.

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