House committee forwards bills to bar offshore drilling across US

House committee forwards bills to bar offshore drilling across US

Lawmakers gave initial approval to bipartisan measures to bar offshore drilling across the U.S. in a Wednesday meeting of the House Natural Resources Committee.

The committee advanced bills that would bar drilling along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as the eastern Gulf of Mexico near Florida shorelines.

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“The limited economic benefit oil and gas exploration might have is dwarfed by the ongoing importance of our sustainable economies that depend on clean beaches,” said Rep. Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamKate Schroder in Ohio among Democratic challengers squelching GOP hopes for the House Warning signs flash for Lindsey Graham in South Carolina Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report MORE (D-S.C.), who campaigned on barring offshore drilling.

Cunningham said another oil spill like 2010's Deepwater Horizon would devastate South Carolina’s economy.

“It’s pretty cut and dry where I come from. We don’t want it and we don’t need it,” he said of offshore oil development.

The Trump administration has pushed an energy dominance strategy that includes further offshore drilling, but Interior Secretary David Bernhardt has yet to unveil the department's five-year offshore drilling plan, citing the uncertainty surrounding an Alaska case that blocks development there.

A number of lawmakers have worked to bar offshore drilling near their states before it can be included in the plan, but Florida’s delegation, including its Republican members, has been particularly vocal.

“Voters in the Sunshine State have made clear time and time again that offshore drilling has no place near Florida’s shore,” said Rep. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalAct now to protect our nation's birds Overnight Energy: EPA declines to regulate chemical tied to developmental damage | Democrats unveil .5T infrastructure plan | Land management bureau eases requirements for oil, gas royalty cut requests Land management bureau lessens requirements for oil and gas royalty cut requests MORE (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill before the committee.

“Secretary Bernhardt appears to be delaying the next version of the plan because he knows including the Eastern Gulf would cause tremendous problems in a 2020 swing state.”

A coalition of conservation and environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana and the Sierra Club, lauded the new bans.

“These measures are a key step toward halting the expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling, a dangerous practice that threatens our nation’s coastal communities, oceans, national parks, marine life and climate,” the groups said in a joint statement. “We cannot afford another catastrophic oil spill on our shores just to pad the pockets of the oil and gas industry.”

Despite the bipartisan nature of the bills, many committee Republicans expressed reservations over barring offshore drilling.

Rep. Garret GravesGarret Neal GravesHouse GOP seeks to cement Trump rollback of bedrock environmental law Oil and gas is a partner — not an adversary — in meeting our economic and environmental goals OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push resolution to battle climate change, sluggish economy and racial injustice | Senators reach compromise on greenhouse gas amendment stalling energy bill | Trump courts Florida voters with offshore drilling moratorium MORE (R-La.) said Congress should not make such bans permanent.

“We have no idea what’s going to happen with our energy future — we don’t,” he said, adding that decreasing domestic development could increase U.S. reliance on foreign-produced energy.

Graves also said the pushback from local leaders violated federal powers.

“This is an attempt by states to tell the federal government what it can or can’t do with their property,” Graves said, saying the federal government would be turning away billions in revenue.

Democrats quashed a series of amendments from Graves and stressed the importance of maintaining clean coastlines and respecting the wishes of local residents.

“To me this is a simple issue,” said Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D-N.J.), referencing support from people on both sides of the aisle. “The majority of people and the majority of legislators feel strongly that this is not appropriate and don’t want to see it used.”

—Updated at 6:14 p.m.