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) PingreeCongress pumps brakes on Interior push to relocate Bureau of Land Management Overnight Energy: Changing climate boosts Maine lobster industry -- for now | 2020 Dems debate climate response at Detroit debate | Dem asks for perjury investigation into Interior nominee Changing climate boosts Maine lobster industry — for now 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 ObamaAt debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Appeals court allows Trump emoluments case to move forward Warren isn't leading polls, but at debate she looks like front-runner MORE that protected parts of the Alaska and Atlantic coasts from offshore development.

Rep. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanDemocrats seize on viral Sharpie hashtags to mock Trump map edit Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment 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 KingOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine Democrats grill Army, Air Force nominees on military funding for border wall Bipartisan panel to issue recommendations for defending US against cyberattacks early next year 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.