By GREGORY ZELLER //
Governor Andrew Cuomo is firing more broadside cannon shots at the Trump White House in a sea battle centered off Long Island’s shores.
Cuomo is advancing legislation that would prohibit the leasing of lands, including underwater lands, for offshore drilling and exploration purposes – a direct response to “the Trump administration’s plan to vastly expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans,” according to the governor’s office.
In January, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke unveiled the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, President Trump’s controversial plan to permit oil and gas exploration and drilling in most U.S. continental-shelf waters, including currently protected waters in the Atlantic Ocean and elsewhere.
Developing “energy resources” along the Outer Continental Shelf “in a safe and well-regulated way” is important to the nation’s economic and energy security, according to Zinke, who acknowledged “not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling” and envisioned “the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American energy dominance.”
Despite that moderate-sounding approach, a flotilla of U.S. governors, state attorneys general and, naturally, environmentalists has raised its sails in protest to the offshore-drilling plan, including Cuomo, a frequent critic of Trump’s environmental policies.
Now comes Cuomo’s proposed “Save Our Waters” bill, which in addition to its leasing restrictions specifically prohibits the construction of offshore oil and gas infrastructure on state-owned land and the transportation of North Atlantic crude oil from offshore wells on the state’s navigable waterways. The proposed state law covers the Hudson River, waters surrounding New York City and, most prominently, the Long Island coastline.
The president’s drilling plan “shows an absolute disregard for science and history,” according to Cuomo, who not only trumpeted the merits of renewable-energy technologies like wind and solar power but warned that offshore drilling could “jeopardize the health of our robust marine economy.”
“Offshore drilling would make our coastal communities vulnerable to the dangers of oil spills and other drilling disasters,” the governor said. “New York will do everything in our power to prevent environmental disasters and will continue to safeguard our offshore assets and bolster our efforts to support renewable energy development.”
Although the federal leasing program makes more than 90 percent of the United States’ “total offshore acreage” available to oil and gas drilling, according to a statement from the governor’s office, it doesn’t include waters off the Florida coast – the Sunshine State was granted a pass due to its reliance on tourism, making it one of the nation’s top “ocean economies.”
Cuomo formally requested in March that New York be similarly excluded from the federal drilling program. The Empire State boasts the nation’s third-largest ocean economy, according to the governor’s office, which cited $23 billion in annual economic activity, including $11 billion in annual wages.
Further, some 60 percent of New York’s population – including nearly 8 million residents on Long Island – is situated along the state’s coastline. And so is the Port of New York and New Jersey, the largest commercial port on the Eastern Seaboard, a $90 billion annual economic hub and the last place you want an oil spill, according to the governor’s office, which suggests such an accident could be “devastating to the national economy.”
To date, New York has not been excluded from the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Leasing Program – hence, Cuomo’s proposed legislation, a direct blocking action and a “true commitment to keeping New York’s environment clean, beautiful and protected,” according to NYS Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).
“My Assembly colleagues and I held a hearing on Long Island in February and there was unanimous condemnation of the federal government’s proposal to open up our waters to drilling for oil and gas,” noted Englebright, who lauded Cuomo’s proposed legislation as “aggressive action to protect New York’s environment from the federal government’s regressive policies.”
Those concerns about potential spills and their deleterious environmental and economic effects are quite real, added Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment, who lamented the oil and gas industries’ “injurious track record of oil spills and other environmental disasters.”
“The federal government’s offshore drilling plan significantly increases the risk of even greater environmental disasters across our coastal regions,” Esposito said in a statement. “As renewable energy technology is deployed in our state and our nation, it is reducing the need for fossil fuels.
“We can no longer be fossil fools and continue to advance outdated, potentially damaging offshore drilling.”