Joe Bouchard, left, former base commander of Naval Station Norfolk, speaks at last year's Hands Across the Sand event on the Virginia Beach Oceanfront (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)
Hundreds of people line up across the sand last year during the Hands Across the Sand event in Virginia Beach (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)
Thursday a coalition of governors from five Atlantic Coast states representing some 33 million people sent a letter to Congressional leaders in opposition of offshore drilling for oil and natural gas and calling for Congress to oppose it as well.
The coalition, which includes governors from Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, urged Congress to oppose the “Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters Act,” which they say does not enhance state management, but rather eliminates it.
A former Navy captain and commander of Naval Station Norfolk, Joe Bouchard, applauded the efforts of the governors and said the name given to the proposed act was entirely misleading.
“This bill’s name is a cynical attempt to deceive voters as to its true purpose – to make it financially impossible for a state to oppose offshore oil and gas drilling in Federal waters off its coast,” Bouchard said. “The act does not enhance state management; it severely punishes states that oppose offshore drilling.”
He said if Congress fails to act and the Trump Administration gets its way, states whose priority is to protect their coastal economies, including tourism, outdoor recreation, commercial and recreational fishing, shellfish and crab harvesting, and aquaculture, would face a financial catastrophe for opposing offshore drilling.
“Offshore drilling is a clear and present threat to Virginia’s economy, our military assets, and our natural resources,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
In the letter to Congressional leaders, the governors wrote that “It could not be more clear that the citizens of our states oppose the U.S. Department of Interior’s proposed plan … Virtually every state along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts has opposed this strategy.”
The letter also claims that while the Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters Act would seem to give states more authority, that is not the case.
“Unfortunately, the Enhancing State Management of Federal Lands and Waters Act severely punishes those states that are responsive to constituents who strongly object to offshore drilling,” reads the letter. “Under the guise of providing an option to states, this legislation would impose a hefty cost on states that choose to exercise jurisdiction over their shorelines.”
Local reaction to the letter from environmental supporters opposed to offshore drilling is hopeful.
“Governor Northam has been steadfastly opposed to offshore drilling in the Atlantic and has said that he will do everything he can as governor to prevent drilling off the coast of Virginia,” said Karen Forget, executive director of Lynnhaven River NOW. “I cannot predict what is going to happen in the Trump Administration, but the position of the governor is an important part of the federal review process and it is great to know that Governor Northam is working to prevent this tragedy from happening.”
The letter from the governors concludes with: “We ask that Congress recognize and respect the rights of states to protect our waters without being held hostage by the combined effects of the Interior Department’s dangerous proposal and this misguided legislation.”
Virginia faces particular danger, Bouchard said.
“Virginia also would be punished for protecting Department of Defense training areas off the coast of Virginia, training areas that are critical for the combat readiness of U.S. military forces,” he said. “A bill that would slap ruinous financial penalties on Virginia for standing up for America’s men and women in uniform is a bill all patriotic Virginians should oppose and urge their Senators and Representatives to oppose.”
A full copy of the letter to Congress can be found online.