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Gov. Cooper to feds: No offshore drilling

Governor Roy Cooper

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper last week met with Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and voiced North Carolina’s opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing, emphasizing the threat to coastal economies and tourism.

The governor’s announcement on Saturday stressed that offshore drilling would put North Carolina’s $3 billion coastal economy, 22 barrier islands and millions of acres of estuaries at risk.

Cooper said Zinke made no promises but was receptive to the concerns he and stakeholders presented, and Zinke also agreed to consider Cooper’s request to extend the public comment period and add additional public hearings in coastal communities.

Cooper also urged the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to hold additional public hearings on the North Carolina coast in Kill Devil Hills, Morehead City and Wilmington. Currently, the only public feedback session is scheduled for Feb. 26 in Raleigh as an “open house.

“I appreciate Secretary Zinke taking the time to come to North Carolina to hear our concerns about offshore drilling off North Carolina’s coast, but I was clear that today’s meeting cannot take the place of public hearings and a visit in our coastal communities,” Cooper said.  “We’ve listened to the experts, and opening up our coast would put our economy, our environment, and our coastal communities at risk. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Not off our coast.”

At least 30 coastal communities have passed resolutions opposing drilling, joining hundreds of businesses and a bipartisan group of North Carolina’s Congressional delegation, including Walter Jones (R), who represents Ocracoke

So far, the Hyde County Commissioners have not weighed in on this latest attempt, but Ocracoke township commissioner, Tom Pahl, voiced his opposition at the Feb. 5 commissioners meeting.

“Ocracoke is a very special beach with its pristine quality,” he said.   “No matter how hard they try (to be safe), there will be problems with offshore drilling.”

In the first public comment portion of the meeting, islander Janey Jacoby noted that other islanders were concerned and urged the commissioners to join in with other coastal communities who have, again, passed resolutions against offshore drilling.

“This could kill the coast,” she said. “We hope to hear from you about this.”

The views of Ocracoke’s state and federal representatives can be read here.

In early January, President Donald Trump’s administration announced a five-year plan that would invite drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.  A few days later, Zinke announced that Florida would be exempted from the plan, citing the importance of tourism and the coastal economy to the state.

“North Carolina is in precisely the same position,” Cooper added. “If you’re going to exempt Florida for those reasons, you have to exempt North Carolina,” adding that if no exemption is granted, the state will file a lawsuit in federal court.

Also last week,  Josh Stein, N.C. Attorney General, led a coalition of 12 attorneys general to write to the federal government expressing what they believe is “a grave risk” to coastal states

The Raleigh News&Observer reported on a meeting Cooper held with reporters afterwards. Cooper pressed his case that there is no such thing as safe oil exploration in the stormy waters known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.”

In addition to the major tourism economy, the state’s waters have some of the best fisheries in the entire world, which drives our economy, Stein had said Saturday.

“Our economy is entirely dependent on tourism and fisheries,” Stein said. “We cannot risk having a Deepwater Horizon oil spill ruin the entire economic basis of our coastal part of the state.”

A bipartisan group of coastal elected officials and stakeholders joined in the meeting with Zinke.

They were Josh Stein, N.C. Attorney General; Michael Regan, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality; Bob Woodard, chair of the Dare County Commission; Susie Walters, Mayor Pro Tem of Nags Head; Renee Cahoon, chair of the NC Coastal Resources Commission; Trace Cooper, Mayor of Atlantic Beach; Rob Zapple, New Hanover County Commissioner; Dr. Stan Riggs, marine geologist at East Carolina University; Tom Kies, president of the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce, and Dave Timpy, fisherman and former member of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Several of the state’s Republican members of Congress have expressed support for drilling or exploration in the Atlantic, including Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, as well as Reps. George Holding of Raleigh, David Rouzer of Johnston County, Ted Budd of Davie County, Robert Pittenger of Charlotte, Richard Hudson of Concord and Mark Walker of Greensboro.