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Cooper Threatens Lawsuit If NC Isn't Exempt From Offshore Drilling

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Jan 22, 2018
Gov. Roy Cooper speaks Monday morning at Wrightsville Beach, where he said he would sue the federal government if the state is not exempted from offshore drilling. (Photo by Christina Haley O'Neal)
Gov. Roy Cooper wants North Carolina to be exempt from the Trump administration's plan to open up the nation’s coast to offshore drilling, threatening to sue the federal government if that doesn't happen, he said Monday. 

That’s the message the governor shared during a speech Monday morning on the first floor of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort in Wrightsville Beach.

"This is what Washington needs to know: If North Carolina is not exempt from offshore drilling, we will sue the federal government," Cooper said. "Not off our coast.”

This month, the N.C. Department of Interior announced a five-year plan to open the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts to oil and gas leasing, Cooper said. 

According to a Jan. 4 news release from the U.S. Department of Interior, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced the next steps for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for 2019-24.

The measure proposes to make more than 90 percent of the total Outer Continental Shelf acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development, according to that release.

"Offshore drilling is just a bad deal for our state," Cooper said. 

Cooper made mention of Zinke's recent trip to Florida and Zinke's reported decision to exempt that state from his plan; more recent news stories have suggested Florida might not be exempt. But the reasons previously given for Florida's potential exemption -- local and state opposition and tourism -- are traits that North Carolina shares, Cooper said Monday.

Cooper also said Monday that he called Zinke on Jan. 19, saying, "What about us?" Cooper said Zinke said he understood the concerns of the coastal communities and would come to North Carolina to listen to community and business leaders, as well as recreational and coastal commercial fisherman. 

"We hope that he does. And he said it's going to be a process," Cooper said of the secretary. "I hope he will listen to North Carolina's concerns like they did Florida. And if he and the department don't, we will see them in court."

The governor said the coast generates $3 billion dollars in tourism annually and supports more than 30,000 jobs in Eastern North Carolina, pointing out that "hundreds of millions of dollars" are also brought in by commercial fisherman, he said.

The governor said some of the reasons for his opposition are the risk of catastrophic events; North Carolina's advancements in renewable energy; and the lack of "evidence" that shows offshore drilling would be a "financial boon for the state."

"We're unlikely to get many jobs or much revenue sharing or state port business from it," Cooper said.

"Why risk drilling in the ocean, when we have cleaner fuels?" Cooper added, questioning the current administration’s ability to enforce offshore drilling rules and the roll-back of safety regulations put in place during the 2010 Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill, which he cited as causing $60 billion dollars in cleanup and economic recovery.

"That's more than twice North Carolina's annual budget," he said.

Cooper said he will continue to lead the resistance for the state, but asked the public to submit comments to the U.S. Department of Interior, which has opened a public comment period on the offshore drilling plan. 

"Now is the time for the people to raise their voices," he said. "... Let's let them hear it. This place, our coast, is a part of who we are as North Carolinians. We must protect our land, our waters and our livelihoods. Let's let them hear it all the way to Washington -- not off our coast, here in North Carolina."

The governor's speech ended with applause in response from a crowd of people in attendance Monday morning, including Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo and members of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, which shortly before the governor's arrival, passed a resolution in opposition to offshore drilling.

The county's opposition followed the city of Wilmington, Wrightsville Beach, Kure Beach and Carolina Beach, which also passed similar resolutions expressing opposition to offshore drilling.

Rep. Ted Davis (R-New Hanover) addressed the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners before its decision Monday morning at the board's regular meeting, describing why he feels their opposition is important.

Davis said during his own 16 years as a New Hanover County commissioner, he "learned just how important that the quality of our coastal environment was to our local economy because it is our beaches, our waterways, our estuaries that help to attract tourists and a variety of businesses. But all of these things that make our county thrive, as well as being an incredible place to visit, enjoy, live and raise a family, are in jeopardy because of the threat of offshore drilling. We must protect our coastal environment, our quality of life and our local economy from such activity."

Some regional representatives, however, have said offshore exploration might bring benefits. Danielle Smotkin, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. David Rouzer (R-NC), said that while the Congressman respects the views of all the residents in the 7th Congressional district, under the law, the administration "makes the determination whether our federal waters are open for exploration -- typically following a regulatory process that includes significant public input."
 
Should the administration open the Atlantic to leasing, she said, the role of Congress is "to determine whether a revenue-sharing arrangement is put in place to supplement funding for the dredging of our inlets and waterways, enhance our beaches, and other measures to enhance infrastructure, as well as vocational education needs for the benefit of tourism, the environment and the economy."

She added that Rouzer "believes any offshore exploration should be no closer than 30 miles off the coast and done using the most advanced safety protocols, procedures, techniques, and equipment. Under those conditions, it is the Congressman’s belief that offshore drilling would be a major benefit to the coast, tourism, fishing and job creation."
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