Virginia governor opposes offshore drilling plan

Virginia governor opposes offshore drilling plan
© Greg Nash

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) on Thursday came out against expanding offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean waters off the coast of his state.

McAuliffe had previously said he could support drilling near Virginia on the condition that the federal government expand a royalty sharing program that would supply coastal states with revenue from drilling operations.

But, in a letter to Interior Department officials and a statement released Thursday, McAuliffe said he doesn’t believe the Trump administration will agree to such a plan, and he said he opposes oil and natural gas drilling in the Atlantic without one.

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“President Trump’s proposal to end the revenue sharing agreement with the Gulf States is a clear indication that we cannot trust the president to give Virginia its fair share of the revenues that would result from offshore exploration,” McAuliffe said in a statement, noting a provision in Trump’s budget proposal that would end a revenue sharing program in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Additionally, the president’s administration is actively working to cut funding from the very agencies that would be charged with protecting Virginia’s coastal environment in the event that exploration went forward,” he added.

McAuliffe’s announcement comes as the Interior Department finishes hearing comments on a proposal to reopen the Outer Continental Shelf leasing program for oil and gas drilling.

The current drilling plan, finalized during the Obama administration, blocks drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, though President Trump has indicated he would like to explore for oil there.

The Virginia Petroleum Council said Thursday it would be “short-sighted” to block offshore drilling near the state.

“As the governor has previously stated, safe and responsible energy development off the coast of Virginia would bring millions, and potentially hundreds of millions, of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs to the Commonwealth,” Miles Morin, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

But environmentalists backed McAliffe’s position, nothing that other Atlantic coast governors have spoken out against drilling, as well.

“He joins communities up and down the coast, business leaders and other elected officials in understanding that offshore drilling is a bad deal for our coast,” said Sierra Weaver, the head of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Coast and Wetlands Program.

“Once again, the coast has spoken. It’s time for Washington to listen.” 

—Updated at 5:02 p.m.