Governor-elect requests Virginia exemption from offshore drilling plan

RICHMOND – Governor-elect Ralph Northam has requested that Virginia be excluded from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s plans to expand offshore drilling in the U.S.

The request comes after the Trump administration said Tuesday that it would not seek to bring oil and gas drilling to the waters off Florida, conceding to vocal opposition from the Republican governor of the tourism-driven state.

“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,” Governor-elect Northam writes. “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.”

“The governor-elect 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 ending on March 9,” a spokesperson for the governor-elect said in a statement. “The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has proposed a single public meeting to take place in Richmond, nearly 100 miles from the coastal communities that will feel the impacts of the plan most.”

Governor-elect Northam released a statement condemning the plan earlier this month, saying the threats offshore drilling pose to Virginia’s major economic drivers including tourism, fishing, aquaculture and military installations.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week unveiled a proposal that would roll back offshore drilling restrictions and open dozens of sites for potential leases. But he also said he would seek input from state and local leaders.

After this decision Senator Tim Kaine raised his own questions. He wanted to know why the administration decided to exclude Florida from its plan for offshore drilling while not also excluding Virginia.

Kaine responded to a story that the administration was “bowing to pressure” from Gov. Scott, saying it denied a similar request from outgoing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to ban such oil drilling.

“Virginia’s governor (and governor-elect) have made this same request, but we have not received the same commitment. Wonder why…” Kaine wrote.