Interior chief says offshore drilling plan not 'indefinitely sidelined'

Interior chief says offshore drilling plan not 'indefinitely sidelined'
© Greg Nash

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Tuesday the department will complete development of a five-year offshore drilling plan, despite earlier comments that plan had been put on hold.

Responding to questions from Rep. Chellie PingreeRochelle (Chellie) PingreeHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Overnight Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move to Kansas City MORE (D-Maine) in reference to a Wall Street Journal interview in which he said the the plan had been indefinitely sidelined, Bernhardt said the department still has a few more years to complete its plan before a new one is required in 2022.

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Pingree, who referred to offshore drilling as universally opposed in Maine, pushed Bernhardt to take it completely off the table.

The Interior chief assured her that state concerns would be paramount in making a determination.

“I’m not aware of a single lease that was ever developed over the opposition of a state,” he said.

Bernhardt said he paused the development of the five-year plan while the courts weigh designations from former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMichelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Media cried wolf: Calling every Republican a racist lost its bite Rubio criticizes reporters, Democrat for racism accusations against McCain MORE that protected parts of the Alaska and Atlantic coasts from offshore development.

Rep. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Racial politics roil Democratic Party Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support MORE (D-N.J.) questioned why Interior was continuing to process permits for seismic exploration of underwater oil reserves, particularly given the risks the process poses to marine life.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of information. If we can do it properly and it can be done responsibly, the data itself is not something we should be afraid of,” he said.

State delegations have already put significant effort into resisting offshore development of their coastlines. A bipartisan group of Florida representatives introduced a bill that would block such drilling, while delegations from Virginia and New Jersey have sent letters to Interior voicing their opposition.

Bernhardt’s assurances that state voices would be considered in developing offshore drilling plans appear to have been a factor in his April confirmation.

Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator Senate panel advances Pentagon chief, Joint Chiefs chairman nominees Overnight Defense: Highlights from Defense pick's confirmation hearing | Esper spars with Warren over ethics | Sidesteps questions on Mattis vs. Trump | Trump says he won't sell F-35s to Turkey MORE (I-Maine) said Bernhardt made it clear his and other senators' opposition to offshore drilling would be considered.

"They're not guarantees, but he gave me some assurances," King said shortly after Bernhardt's confirmation vote.