Deadline nears for public comment on offshore oil drilling
When it comes to offshore drilling, there's bad news, good news, and some pretty ridiculous news.
The bad news is that last year President Trump announced plans to open Atlantic coastal waters to offshore drilling, reversing a decision by President Obama.
The good news - I'm being kind here - is that the federal government is seeking comments from the public before it begins selling leases for offshore drilling.
The deadline for comments is March 9. Go to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management website to register your views.
In January, BOEM held a meeting at a Dover hotel, where the long and complicated process was spelled out. It was staffed by friendly, polite and knowledgeable BOEM employees.
(Also at the hotel that day, Suzanne Thurman, executive director of the Marine Education, Research & Rehabilitation Institute, organized a counter meeting protesting offshore drilling.)
According to Megan Davidson, project manager for the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is required to consider eight different factors when deciding on oil leases.
These factors include environmental and economic impacts.
Sounds good, but here's more bad news: While Zinke must consider all eight factors, there are no rules about how they are weighted.
"That's a tricky one," Davidson said. "It's really up to the secretary himself to weight them in his own way."
In most cases, according to Davidson, the secretary issues a decision and even BOEM employees aren't told the basis for the ruling.
"It's not something that trickles back to us," she said.
So, basically, anything goes!
Which is how - this is where it gets ridiculous - Zinke was able to decide that Florida was exempt from the oil-leasing program.
Florida, you see, is unique because it depends on its beaches for tourism. Unlike, you know, every other state along the Eastern Seaboard, including Delaware.
And also, supposedly, because its geology is different. Zinke didn't explain that one either.
But you can be sure the decision had nothing to do with Florida being a big Republican state with a Republican governor.
And, of course, it had nothing to with the fact that Trump owns a resort in Palm Beach, his beloved Mar-a-Lago. To believe otherwise would be to consider Trump capable of self-dealing.
Perish the thought, if not the oil rigs.
Still, not all state officials, even Republicans, are buying the "Florida-is-unique" argument.
The Washington Post had a story about state Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, a Republican and the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military college.
A former Trump campaign worker, she nevertheless appeared at an anti-oil drilling rally, talking about the 8 million to 10 million tourists who come to South Carolina beaches.
"They don't want to come to see oil drilling off the coast," she bellowed. "Ain't gonna happen. Not on my watch!"
Hmmm, it's possible Trump may find that – like healthcare, trade wars, and peace in the Middle East – offshore oil drilling is a trickier issue than he first expected.
In the meantime, people should register their concerns at the BOEM website. Deena Hansen, another BOEM employee at the Dover meeting, emphasized the importance of being specific.
"We've heard some people talk about the horseshoe crab and how that affects red knots," she said. "That's really unique." (Red knots, a shorebird, eat horseshoe crab eggs.)
Another example, Hansen said, could be a fisherman who derives his income from where oil rigs might be placed.
"We want to hear all the concerns," she said.
But we shouldn't kid ourselves. For long-term protection of our precious coastline, we need to kick politicians like Trump out of office.
Don Flood is a former newspaper editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.