Wyden, Merkley urge Obama to permanently ban offshore oil drilling

Wyden, Merkley urge Obama to permanently ban offshore oil drilling

Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, along with Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass, wrote to President Obama, urging him to exercise his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to permanently withdraw the West Coast from consideration for new oil and gas leasing.

The Department of the Interior's 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program does not include lease sales off of the West Coast. President Obama has not allowed new lease sales in the Pacific during his presidency. However, a moratorium is not currently in place.

"Opening up the coast to more fossil fuel development poses a threat to our oceans and the coastal economies that depend on them," the senators wrote. "We appreciate your Administration's ongoing commitment to keep new West Coast lease sales off of the table. [...] However, without a permanent withdrawal, we cannot be certain that the coastline would not see new oil and gas development in the future."

Senators Wyden, Merkley, Boxer, Feinstein, Cantwell and Murray previously introduced the West Coast Ocean Protection Act in an effort to permanently prevent offshore drilling on the outer continental shelf of California, Oregon and Washington. A prohibition would protect the coastal economies of the three states, which are collectively worth $44 billion yearly and support nearly 650,000 jobs.

The full text of the letter is below.

November 16, 2016

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

The White House

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We are writing to urge you to permanently protect federal waters off of the West Coast from new oil and gas drilling. Opening up the coast to more fossil fuel development poses a threat to our oceans and the coastal economies that depend on them. We ask you to use the authority granted to you under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to prohibit future oil and gas leasing along the West Coast to protect the magnificent coastline forever.

Under Section 12(a) of OCSLA, the president has the authority to withdraw areas from future oil and gas leasing. Many presidents have used this authority to effectively establish offshore drilling moratoria, including for the Pacific. President George H.W. Bush issued a moratorium that protected areas in the Pacific from oil and gas development, and President Bill Clinton later extended that moratorium. While neither one was permanent, we believe that Section 12(a) under OCSLA provides you with the authority to permanently withdraw areas of the outer continental shelf from consideration for leasing.

We appreciate your Administration's ongoing commitment to keep new West Coast lease sales off of the table. We were so pleased to see that the Department of the Interior's 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program did not include any lease sales off of the West Coast. However, without a permanent withdrawal, we cannot be certain that the coastline would not see new oil and gas development in the future.

In October 2015, the six West Coast Senators reintroduced the West Coast Ocean Protection Act, which would prohibit new oil and gas leases in federal waters off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. This bill has been introduced in every Session of Congress since 2010 to send a strong message that the West Coast deserves permanent protection. We simply cannot put our environment and coastal economies more at risk with new offshore oil and gas drilling.

We ask you, now, to help us achieve our goal of permanent protection for the West Coast. Thank you for your consideration of this very important issue.

Sincerely,