OCEAN CITY — The U.S. House of Representatives last week took decisive action against proposed offshore exploration and drilling for oil and natural gas including Congressman Andy Harris (R-Md.), who broke party ranks to approve the measure.
The Trump administration’s plan to open vast areas off the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico coasts, including a wide swath off the mid-Atlantic, took a setback last week when the House of Representatives approved three amendments to the Department of the Interior appropriations bill blocking the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling.
The amendments were approved by the majority of the House including nearly all Democrats and about two dozen Republicans, who broke ranks on the largely partisan issue. Harris was among the Republican congressmen who crossed over and put his constituency before his party.
The amendments also include a ban on seismic testing offshore. While the Department of the Interior appropriations bill and the amendments banning offshore drilling and seismic testing made it through the House, it still faces a tough battle in the Senate.
By way of background, offshore drilling for oil and natural gas off the Atlantic coast was first proposed during the Obama administration, but was reversed under intense opposition from coastal communities along with a coalition of environmental advocacy groups. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order reopening vast areas off the mid-Atlantic coast to offshore oil exploration and drilling, renewing a years-long battle that resulted in the previous administration reversing the plan.
Last November, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it had issued it final Incidental Harassment Authorization (IHA) permits allowing seven private sector companies to begin the potentially dangerous practice of seismic air gun testing for oil and gas reserves in the mid-Atlantic, including vast areas off the Ocean City coast.
Those approvals triggered a renewed response in opposition to both seismic air gun testing and offshore drilling and excavation. Clearly, the parallel issues are directly related to potential dangers to the ocean environment and the countless species that call it home.
This week, the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce issued a statement praising Harris for putting his constituents and a clean ocean environment ahead of his party with the yeah votes on the three amendments.
“Congressman Andy Harris recently took a stand on behalf of his constituents against expanded offshore drilling,” Chamber Executive Director and CEO Melanie Pursel said in the statement. “Marylanders have made it clear and he listened. Our coastal economy is incompatible with offshore drilling activities.”
Pursel said in the statement the chamber along with local, state and national environmental advocacy groups and governments remain steadfast in their opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing with the next major hurdle now heading to the Senate.
“Our fishermen, coastal business owners and realtors depend on a clean Chesapeake Bay and healthy Atlantic coastline for their livelihoods,” she said. “It’s plain and simple. Our way of life in Ocean City is dependent on an oil-free coast, and I’m thankful Congressman Harris is working to keep it that way.”
Meanwhile, environmental advocacy groups also applauded the House vote on the three amendments blocking offshore drilling and seismic testing. A coalition of groups including the National Resources Defense Council, the Surfrider Foundation and Oceana among other issued a joint statement following the House vote last week.
“Our federal budget reflects our values as a nation,” the statement from the allied environmental advocacy group reads. “This decisive action by the House of Representatives to block funding to advance offshore drilling activities supports healthy communities, oceans, national parks, climate and marine life. We cannot allow the oil and gas industry to boost its profits while our environment and coastal economies suffer the consequences of devastating oil spills.”
In its own statement, Oceana vowed to continue the fight as the battle now moves to the Senate.
“For nearly three decades, Congress blocked offshore drilling through appropriations measures,” said Oceana campaign director Diane Hoskins in a statement. “Now we’re counting on Congress to enact offshore drilling moratoriums again. President Trump’s radical offshore drilling plan threatens our fishing, tourism and recreation industries that rely on a clean and healthy ocean.”