Congressman Lee Zeldin was joined by other East End officials for a press conference Friday denouncing the U.S. Department of the Interior’s plan to make 90 percent of the nation’s outer continental shelf open to oil and gas drilling.
The proposal threatens Long Island’s environment, economy and way of life, Mr. Zeldin said.
“There’s bipartisan support up and down the East Coast to take the entire Atlantic coast off the proposal altogether,” Mr. Zeldin (R-Shirley) said from a podium at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead.
The drilling announcement came from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke on Jan. 4 and has since prompted an outcry in coastal states. Florida received an exemption from the drilling proposal days later, after opposition from its governor, Rick Scott.
The coalition is also calling on Mr. Zinke, who Mr. Zeldin called a friend, to extend the public comment period on the proposal and to hold a public impact hearing on Long Island. It’s currently planned for Albany.
Local leaders echoed the front against the Interior proposal in a show of bipartisan support across layers of government.
“I’m so happy to hear you’re willing to put politics aside and to do what’s right for our community and for our environment and for the future of our communities,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said the proposal not only threatens the Atlantic Ocean, but the Long Island Sound as a transport route. It would undo years of collaboration between federal, state and local governments as partners in efforts to restore the Long Island Sound, he said.
“What desecrates the ocean will sooner or later desecrate the shore, all so a few well-heeled interests can go on a treasure hunt,” Mr. Russell said. “This cannot happen.”
State assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said the proposal is a “horrible idea.” He criticized the fact that a hearing would be held in Albany, a long way from the ocean.
“We need to be heard,” he said.
A major message was how protecting the environment protects the local economy, from tourism to small business. Discover Long Island president and CEO Kristen Jarnagin spoke of tourism to the island as a $5.6 billion annual industry and said it’s about protecting the catalyst to business attraction for years to come.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said investing in fossil fuels as opposed to renewable energy sends a “terrible message to the next generation.”
“If you live on Long Island, the economy is the environment and the environment is the economy,” he said.
Speakers warned against potential environmental ramifications of drilling, such as oil spills that are known to endanger wildlife and coastal ecosystems. Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, called it a “risky scheme” that would turn over the oceans to the oil industry and forever threaten ecosystems and local communities.
She pointed to recent efforts in offshore wind and solar power as the path to follow.
“You ever hear of a wind spill? I think not,” she said. “We know what’s the right choice, we know what the wrong choice is. We have to stop being fossil fools.”