March 28– Mar. 28–When considering a proposal for offshore drilling along the coasts of Washington and other states, the Trump administration should pay heed to the notion of state’s rights. It is, after all, a time-honored philosophy of Republicans.
But rather than risk the wrath of opponents, the administration is quietly trying to weaken a decades-old law that empowers states to slow or prevent drilling off their coasts. The U.S. Commerce Department is seeking to “streamline” a review process granted under the Coastal Zone Management Act, reducing the power of states to control what happens beyond their shores.
Last year, then-Interior Department head Ryan Zinke announced plans to sell leases allowing for drilling in federal waters along most of the U.S. coastline. This drew a sharp rebuke from Congressional representatives, governors and legislatures in most affected states, including Washington.
As Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in a message echoed by others: “Offshore oil and gas development poses a direct threat to Washington state jobs in coastal communities. … The Washington coast economy relies on healthy, sustainable oceans which support fisheries, seafood processing, recreation, shipbuilding, trade, transportation, and tourism.”
Offshore drilling is regarded as anathema to most residents in the Pacific Northwest, which helps explain why the practice has not existed here since the 1960s. Opposition has been buoyed by the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act, which gives states a voice when industry development affects their waters, even beyond the state’s 3-mile jurisdiction. The Los Angeles Times explains: “In practice, this means that activity in federal waters that would otherwise not be open to extensive public scrutiny can be subjected to hearings and local environmental impact assessments.”
Notably, part of the impetus for the law was a 1969 oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif. The spill, originating at an offshore drilling platform, released up to 100,000 barrels of crude oil and bespoiled the coast while devastating marine life. It remains the third-largest oil spill in U.S. history.
Under the law, states can demand modifications to development that could affect their coastlines. According to a 2016 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, states end up approving more than 90 percent of proposals following negotiations that avoid costly and time-consuming legal challenges.
Now the administration is attempting to undermine that power at the same time it is hoping the Senate approves the nomination of David Bernhardt — a former oil industry lobbyist — as secretary of the Interior.
Overall, the issue reveals the Trump administration’s priorities. As Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said last year, the action “demonstrates exactly what this administration stands for: Big Oil and the relentless pursuit of profit, no matter what it may mean for our environment, public health, economy, or the many, many people who want their pristine coasts preserved.”
That includes the people of Washington, who recognize that our coast is essential to the state’s culture and is more valuable than what might be lying beneath the Pacific Ocean. Selling drilling rights to private interests would undermine the shared stake we have in our coastal waters, and crippling the Coastal Zone Management Act would ignore the concept of state’s rights.
This Washington should demand better from the other Washington.
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