Virginia leaders say oil rigs and military can’t co-exist in Atlantic

Three veterans including Congresswoman Elaine Luria told citizens gathered for a town hall meeting in Virginia Beach that oil drilling is not compatible with critical military training off the Virginia coast.

“I spent 20 years in the Navy myself on six different ships, a lot of them operating here off the coast of Virginia,” said Luria, a Democrat serving the 2nd Congressional District. “We require free range of movement to do our exercises to train our ships’ crews, to practice firing our weapons systems, to integrate with aircraft. I just don’t think we can properly train and equip our forces to deploy into harms way overseas if they are dodging oil platforms.”

Luria, a freshman legislator, campaigned on a platform that included opposition to both drilling and seismic blasting in the Atlantic. She unseated Republican Scott Taylor who once embraced offshore drilling but remained silent on the issue after his election. Later in his re-election campaign, he changed his position to opposition, but lost to Luria.

Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District covers all of the Virginia coast and its military bases, as well as the Norfolk Naval Station.

Other members on the seven-person panel said oil drilling would threaten not just Virginia’s military, but also the economy and environment. The panel included city, county, state and federal leaders all opposed to offshore drilling and the seismic blasting that precedes it.

“If something bad happens, we’re kind of screwed,” said John Coker, a Northampton County supervisor. “Most the businesses on our peninsula, in our county and in Accomack County, they’re small businesses. It’s not like they are diversified, they don’t have any fallback. If we have an oil spill, it hits the Eastern Shore, those guys are out of business. They are probably going to lose their businesses and maybe lose their houses.”

The panel was hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation near the shore of Virginia Beach’s Chesapeake Bay where Navy ships pass on the way to the Atlantic training ranges.

“One of the benefits our military forces have here in Virginia is that unrestricted access to important training ranges,” said Carlos Hopkins, a military veteran and Virginia’s secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs. “When you start talking about putting oil rigs in the path of some of those activities, it could significantly impair their ability to train the way they need to.”

Similar town halls are unfolding elsewhere on the East Coast during the Congressional recess. All 14 East Coast governors are opposed to oil drilling and seismic blasting, along with 260 cities, towns and counties in East Coast states.

Despite the overwhelming and bi-partisan opposition to Atlantic drilling, President Trump’s administration has forged ahead with plans expand drilling, conduct seismic blasting, and roll back important safety regulations. A new 5-year leasing plan that was expected earlier this year has been indefinitely delayed, but many expect that it may resurface after the 2020 election.

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