Spanberger Leads Push to Prevent Offshore Drilling in Virginia
WASHINGTON — As House Republicans move closer to a vote on a bill intended to curb the president’s ability to sell oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., is pushing for an amendment to prevent her state’s coast from being opened for oil and gas exploration.
The bill the House will vote on between now and Friday afternoon is known as the Strategic Production Response Act.
It was introduced by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who now chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and broadly speaking, it would limit presidential authority in releasing oil from the strategic reserve, except in the case of a national emergency causing a severe supply disruption.
It would also require the president to produce a plan to increase oil and gas production on federal lands when releases from the strategic reserve are unavoidable.
But Spanberger, who fought the expansion of oil and gas exploration off the Virginia coast during the Trump administration, fears the broad language of the bill could potentially force the current or a future president to have to agree to the sale of offshore energy leases by an equal percentage of the amount taken from the reserve.
“If offshore leasing is opened across the Atlantic seaboard, this change would mean damage to Virginia’s economy, coastal communities and environment,” Spanberger’s office said in a press release Thursday afternoon.
Moments earlier, she’d introduced an amendment to the legislation that would block new oil and gas leasing in any tract located off the coast of Virginia.
“Offshore oil and gas drilling poses a grave threat to our economy, our natural resources and America’s military infrastructure along Virginia’s coast,” Spanberger said. “Virginia’s economy relies heavily on deepwater port commerce — and offshore drilling operations would severely impact these industries.”
According to one report cited by the congresswoman, offshore drilling could jeopardize approximately 86,000 Virginia jobs, as well as roughly $4.8 billion dollars in Virginia’s GDP from coastal tourism, commercial fishing and aquaculture alone.
“And according to [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], in 2016, Virginia’s commercial seafood industry collected more than 440 million pounds of seafood with a value of close to $300 million dollars. This driver of Virginia’s economy could be threatened under the overarching legislation considered here today,” she said.
Spanberger also pointed to a study published by the Department of Defense that suggests any oil and gas activity off the Virginia coast would disrupt military operations, including training and testing activities.
“Finally, I am deeply concerned about the environmental impacts that offshore drilling could have in Virginia. As the largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay has been recognized by Congress as a ‘national treasure’ and has been under federally funded clean-up efforts since 1965,” Spanberger said.
“Over the last several decades, we have made tremendous progress in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay,” she added. “The bay is home to more than 3,600 species of plants, fish and animals — several dozen recognized as threatened or endangered. Virginians do not want to risk a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon spill.”
Voting on amendments to the bill is expected to continue into the night, and the fate of Spanberger’s proposal is not yet known.
What was certain was she wasn’t alone in her concerns.
“Offshore drilling would expose Virginia to potentially devastating threats,” said Peggy Sanner, Virginia executive director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in a written statement.
“A major spill would shatter the local economy, decimate marine life and seabird populations, and pollute the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, undoing decades of restoration efforts. Communities up and down the coast and across Virginia are opposed to offshore drilling,” Sanner said. “We thank Rep. Spanberger for making it clear that oil and gas drilling should never be allowed off Virginia’s coast.”