Virginians’ only opportunity to speak out about the Trump administration’s proposal to allow offshore drilling off Virginia unfolded this week a hundred miles from the coast.
But even so, the Richmond meeting organized by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management drew hundreds from around the state, and a busload of protesters from Hampton Roads. They joined a contingent of local and state officials and business leaders who also gathered to tell BOEM drilling is not wanted or welcome off Virginia’s coast.
Several speakers at a news conference expressed worry that the possibility of oil rigs in the Atlantic would hinder military training.
This concern was echoed by recent votes in Isle of Wight and Suffolk, adding those municipalities to the list of more than 140 East Coast local governments opposing offshore drilling. In their votes, both Virginia coastal communities noted the region’s strong military presence and its incompatibility with drilling as one of their concerns.
Virginia Beach Councilman John Uhrin said, since Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke has exempted Florida’s waters from the five-year drilling plan – at the request of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump ally -- that it might put the Sunshine State in a position to poach an aircraft carrier from Hampton Roads.
“To have a position now where Florida would have this perceived advantage, that they would not have to work around oil rigs to perform their military exercises, that certainly adds a point to their ledger to be able to take away those military assets,” Uhrin said.
Others like Laura Wood Habr, a Virginia Beach businesswoman, said an oil spill would cripple the state’s tourism-dependent economy.
“So we’re here today to take a stand,” she told the room packed with drilling protestors. “Our hospitality industry in Virginia Beach will fight every attempt to open our beautiful coast to oil drilling; we’ll fight every attempt to jeopardize the many jobs that rely on clear sands and clean water; and we will fight every attempt to damage our coastal communities.”
Congressman Donald McEachin, who represents Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, was among several political leaders who spoke directly to federal officials at the BOEM session. McEachin focused his questions on the threats to coastal economies and fisheries, and the need for federal officials to offer meetings on the coast. Minutes earlier, he told the protestors he would not stand by and willingly allow President Trump or his administration to risk the health of Virginia’s beaches and the vibrancy of its economy.
“We are urging the Trump administration not to open Virginia’s coast to drilling,” McEachin said. “And we are sending them another message. If you don’t listen, we will resist you every step of the way.”