Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today urged U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to terminate his plan to allow offshore drilling off the coast of Rhode Island. Kilmartin stressed those comments to Secretary in a letter signed by attorneys general from 12 coastline states. Kilmartin and colleagues cautioned that the Interior's plan to open ocean areas to oil and gas leasing threatens the economic prosperity of affected states and endangers the unique ecologies of shorelines and state ocean waters.
"Rhode Island, the Eastern seaboard, and all coastal communities benefit greatly from the preservation and protection of our natural resources. Allowing drilling for oil and gas will be detrimental to our economy and our quality of life," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "When the North Cape ran aground in 1996, spilling 828,000 gallons of home heating oil into the Bay, our local fishing and lobstering economy was brought to its knees as 250 square miles of Block Island Sound was closed to fishing. One can only imagine the economic and environmental devastation on Rhode Island if we ever experienced an oil spill the likes of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico that sent 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. We don't need this to compound the significant challenge of global warming."
The Interior's plan would, the letter states, "create multiple problems for nearly everyone who participates in or benefits from our states' coastal and maritime economies. At a minimum, three million jobs across America depend on the ocean and coastal economy, which generated more than $350 billion in gross domestic prosperity of our states. It also endangers the unique ecologies of our shores and state ocean waters."
As cited in the letter, the travel and tourism industry, which relies heavily on the costal economy, is a $5.2 billion industry in Rhode Island, supporting more than 41,000 jobs. Rhode Island also has a diverse and dynamic commercial fishing and seafood industry, with commercial seafood sales generating approximately $290 million in 2015, $105 million in income, $147 million in value added to the economy, and supporting 4,522 jobs.
Recreational fishing in Rhode Island is also extremely important to the State, generating $332 million in sales in 2015, $141 million in income, $216 million in value added to the economy, and supporting 3,554 jobs. Overall, commercial and recreational fishing in Rhode Island in 2015 supported over 8,000 jobs, with a value-added contribution of over $363 million annually to the state.
Marine trades and recreational boating further generated $1.3 billion in direct spending, 7,100 direct jobs, and $327 million in direct wages in Rhode Island. The total economic impact of the maritime trades cluster amounts to over $2.2 billion in sales for Rhode Island businesses, and generates nearly $118 million in tax and fee revenue for state and local governments.
Not only does this plan put at risk jobs and our environment, it also demonstrates disregard for the voices of the people of Rhode Island. State and local governments, as well as private citizens in Rhode Island, have made their opposition to this plan clear via the Department of Interior's commenting process. Meanwhile, the State of Florida has apparently received a carve-out from this plan, via Twitter.
The letter submitted to the Interior today is the first step by attorneys general to stop the plan. As noted in the letter, if the proposed program is not terminated, Attorney General Kilmartin intends to submit, on or before March 9, 2018, formal comments detailing the many harms that the proposed program would inflict on Rhode Island and on the program's legal insufficiencies. The Attorney General further committed to using all appropriate legal avenues should the Interior not abandon the plan to expand offshore gas an oil drilling off the coastline of Rhode Island.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is scheduled to have a hearing on the issue on February 28th, 3 – 7 pm at the Providence Marriott. Attorney General Kilmartin is urging all Rhode Islanders who are opposed to the Interior's plan to expand offshore drilling to attend the hearing and express their concerns.