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) PingreeShakespeare Theatre Company goes virtual for 'Will on the Hill...or Won't They?' USDA commits to trade aid for lobster industry using coronavirus coffers US trade deal with EU a boon for lobster industry struggling under China tariffs 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 ObamaDemocrats ramp up pressure on Lieberman to drop out of Georgia Senate race The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on Trump: 'He'll leave' l GOP laywers brush off Trump's election remarks l Obama's endorsements Trump pledges to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, designate KKK a terrorist group in pitch to Black voters MORE that protected parts of the Alaska and Atlantic coasts from offshore development.

Rep. Bonnie Watson ColemanBonnie Watson ColemanDemocrats smell blood with new DHS whistleblower complaint New Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries New Jersey Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman wins Democratic primary 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 KingHopes for DC, Puerto Rico statehood rise Government watchdog recommends creation of White House cyber director position Democrats step up hardball tactics as Supreme Court fight heats up 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.