Offshore drilling foes, denied microphone, hold rallies
Bureau allows only written comments, sparking protests.
With giant HAMILTON, N.J. — inflatable whales, signs that read “Drilling Is Killing” and chants of “Where’s our meeting?” opponents of President Donald Trump’s plan to open most of the nation’s coastline to oil and natural gas drilling have staged boisterous rallies before public meetings held by the federal government on the topic.
That’s because the public cannot speak to the assembled attendees at the meetings. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is meeting one on one with interested parties and allows people to comment online, including typing comments on laptops it provides. People also can hand bureau officials written comments to be included in the record.
What they can’t do is get up at a microphone and address the room.
That has led drilling opponents on both coasts to hold their own meetings before the official ones begin. The latest took place Wednesday in Hamilton, just outside the state capitol of Trenton. One attendee wore a furry red lobster hat with claws protruding from both sides.
“They’re dodging democracy,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of New Jersey’s Clean Ocean Action environmental group, which was to hold a citizens’ hearing before the bureau one begins. “The government works for the people. I understand it’s uncomfortable to have a bad idea and be held accountable for it, but that’s what they’re proposing.”
The Republican president’s decision last month to open most of the nation’s coast to oil and gas drilling horrified environmentalists, and many elected officials from both major political parties oppose it. But energy groups and some business organizations support it as a way to become less dependent on foreign energy.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s chief environmental officer, William Brown, said Congress has mandated five-year energy plans since the Arab oil crisis of the 1970s sent prices rising.
“The charge is to develop a program that provides for the energy needs of the United States, balancing environmental risk with energy need,” Brown told the Associated Press. “We all know renewable energy is something we should develop more of, but renewables are not going to take the place of fossil fuels immediately. The people who are going to read your story are mostly using cars.”
During a hearing Wednesday in Hamilton, N.J., people protest President Donald Trump’s plan to allow offshore oil and gas drilling along the nation’s coast.