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) PingreeOvernight Energy: EPA chief touts benefits of deregulation for environment | Trump officials weaken fish protections Interior chief once lobbied against | USDA watchdog to probe handling of climate reports USDA's internal watchdog to probe allegedly buried climate change reports Congress pumps brakes on Interior push to relocate Bureau of Land Management 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 ObamaAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Debate gives Democrats a chance to focus on unaddressed issues of concern to black voters Is Joe Biden finished? MORE that protected parts of the Alaska and Atlantic coasts from offshore development.

Rep. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanAllegations of bed bugs at Trump's Doral resort swarm Twitter A dozen House Democrats call on EU ambassador to resign amid Ukraine scandal Democrats seize on viral Sharpie hashtags to mock Trump map edit 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 KingOvernight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows by six members Senators fear Syria damage 'irreversible' after Esper, Milley briefing 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.