By Stephen J. Kotz
U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin was joined by state and local political leaders, environmentalists and business representatives on Friday in calling for bipartisan opposition to the decision of the federal government to open most federal waters in the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas exploration.
“The recent proposal by the Department of the Interior opens up nearly 90 percent of U.S. waters in the Atlantic Ocean to potential drilling and would have negative consequences on the Long Island environment, the Long Island economy and our way of life,” said the second term Republican congressman at a press conference at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead.
Mr. Zeldin, who has gained a reputation as one of the Trump administration’s strongest backers, has nonetheless broken ranks with his fellow Republicans on first the tax overhaul in December and now the decision to open up much of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration.
“Protecting our environment goes hand in hand with protecting commerce in our region because so many jobs and small businesses depend on our clean beaches and our clean water,” Mr. Zeldin said. “There is bipartisan support up and down the entire east coast to take the entire Atlantic coast out of the proposal altogether.”
He called on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a former colleague in Congress, to hold a hearing on the proposal on Long Island in addition to one that will be held on February 15 in Albany. “It would make the most sense to have that particular hearing occur in the area that is going to be impacted by that proposal,” he said.
Other speakers, including Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said drilling for fossil fuels, was the wrong way to provide for energy needs.
“We have to stop being fossil fools and proceed into renewable energy as the future,” she said, noting that New York State has become a leader in the effort to transition to renewable energy sources. “Fossil fuels are our past.”
Ms. Esposito said it was vital to “stop this risky scheme because this risky scheme will take our oceans and turn them over to the oil industry and forever threaten our clean, healthy, productive ocean ecosystems.”
The Deepwater Horizon disaster, when a fire and explosion destroyed a rig off the coast of Louisiana in 2010, spilling an estimated 200 million gallons of oil, killed 80,000 seabirds, 26,0000 marine mammals, and another 6,000 turtles, she said. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, in which 11 million gallons of crude was spilled, killed 250,000 seabirds, 250 bald eagles, 22 whales and an estimated 2,800 sea otters, she said.
“Do you know why this happens?” she asked. “Because oil and water do not mix. It is a recipe for disaster.”
Kristen Jarnagin, the president of Discover Long Island, the region’s tourism promotion agency, also harkened back to the Deepwater Horizon spill. That disaster resulted in a $23 billion loss to the tourism industry in the Gulf states. It cost another $150 million in advertising to lure tourists back, she said.
“Tourism is an economic driver. It is the catalyst for business attraction and bringing people to Long Island to live, work and play,” she said, noting that tourism is a $5.6 billion industry on Long Island that represents 100,000 jobs mostly created by small businesses.
“This is a horrible idea. Everyone knows who lives here that it’s a horrible idea,” said Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. “We need to reject this idea and urge the federal government on a bipartisan basis, all elements of the community, to reject this idea. We need to be heard.”
“If you live on Long Island, the economy is the environment, and the environment is the economy,” added County Legislator Al Krupski. “If we continue to make investments in fossil fuels versus making investments in renewable energy, we’re sending a terrible message to the next generation,” he said.
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine said his town had the longest coastline in New York State. “We should be moving away from fossil fuels and moving toward renewable sources,” he said “This is not a partisan issue. We have one world, and we will lose that world if we don’t pay attention. We cannot allow drilling for a speculative cause off our coastline.”
Newly elected East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he was proud his town had adopted in 2014 a long-term goal of providing all its energy needs from renewable sources.
“We all know our economy is critically connected to our environment,” he said. “We have the largest port in the state of New York for fisheries. We have a very fragile ecosystem that depends on us taking good care of it. This proposal flies in the face of that effort.
“An oil spill anywhere on the Atlantic shoreline could imperil our economies and our way of life.”