July 19, 2018
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Maine’s congressional delegation unites against drilling off New England coast

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
This file photo from January 2017 shows wind gusts driving waves against the rocks at the foot of Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth. Maine’s congressional delegation has united against a proposal to expand drilling in U.S. coastal waters.
By Christopher Cousins and Bill Trotter, BDN Staff
Updated:

U.S. Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree of Maine are among the co-sponsors of a bill that would prohibit gas drilling off the coast of New England.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King on Thursday signed on to a similar measure introduced in the Senate.

[Susan Collins, Angus King oppose plan that could allow drilling off Maine coast]

The House bill, which is also supported by representatives from New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, comes in response to a plan announced by President Donald Trump’s administration last week to expand drilling in U.S. coastal waters.

“I am opposed to oil drilling off the coast of our state of Maine,” said Poliquin in a written statement. “So much of our state’s economy and tens of thousands of Maine jobs along our coast depend on our marine and tourism industries. I am committed to protecting Maine’s unique natural resources.”

Pingree has also vowed to fight the president’s policy.

“President Trump’s offshore drilling plan is unprecedented and will face major opposition from Mainers,” Pingree said in a statement last week.

The House bill was introduced Thursday with Rep. David N. Cicilline, R-Rhode Island, as the lead sponsor. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have also announced their opposition to Trump’s plan and wrote a letter to that effect to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke earlier this week.

“With our environment so closely tied to the vitality of Maine’s economy, we cannot risk the health of our ocean on a shortsighted proposal that could impact Maine people for generations,” Collins and King said in a joint statement.

New England states aren’t the only ones seeking exemption from Trump’s order. On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced unexpectedly that Florida would be spared from the order. Other coastal states are expected to follow suit.

Pingree lashed out at the Florida decision in a statement Thursday.

“From the outset, it was outrageous for the Trump administration to try to rollback a decades-old ban on drilling for gas and oil along our coasts, but removing Florida from the list to appease one Republican governor who just lunched with President Trump at his Florida estate is political favoritism at its worst,” Pingree said.

Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, took a more guarded approach.

Julie Rabinowitz, a spokeswoman for LePage, said Thursday in an email that the governor favors exploring drilling sites with a broad area under consideration “in order to allow public input and analysis of all available resources.” LePage expects that significant regions will be excluded from the final plan due to environmental, fishing, tourism or other areas of specific concern, she added.

“The governor believes in a balanced approach that places a priority on protecting our environment and traditional industries but that does not close the door on jobs and lower energy costs for Maine people,” Rabinowitz said.

The chances of offshore drilling happening off the coast of Maine or New England seems unlikely, given that the last time exploratory drilling was done in the region — off Georges Bank in the 1980s — no accessible gas or oil deposits were found. But oil companies remain interested in exploration, and could conduct seismic testing and more exploratory drilling off New England’s coast if Trump’s plan is put in place.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has scheduled a public meeting on the matter for Jan. 22 at the Augusta Civic Center.

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