HARTFORD, Conn. (CN) – Connecticut activists who have teamed up with environmental advocates up and down the East Coast to oppose plans to explore and drill for oil in the Atlantic Ocean protested Tuesday outside a meeting for public comments on the controversial proposal.
President Donald Trump’s administration announced last month that it was considering a five-year plan to open up federal waters to drilling. That was a wake up call for Connecticut and other East Coast states.
About 50 activists rallied Tuesday outside the Hartford Downtown Marriott, where the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was holding a public meeting to accept comments about the proposal.
“Why has this oil and gas drilling plan been proposed?” Martha Klein, president of the Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club, yelled outside the hotel. “Profit for Trump’s cronies.”
Melissa Gates, northeast regional manager of the Surfrider Foundation, said drilling and exploration for offshore oil and gas would “devastate the marine ecosystem” and “destroy our economy and our coastal communities.”
Connecticut doesn’t border the Atlantic Ocean or any federal waters, but the first national marine sanctuary is directly east of the mouth of Long Island Sound along the state’s southern border.
In addition, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England is home to numerous rare and endangered species, including Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, deep-sea fish and corals, as well as three species of whales, including the North Atlantic right whale.
Connecticut environmentalists worry all that would disappear if companies were allowed to explore or drill for oil in the Atlantic.
Inside the hotel, William Y. Brown, chief environmental officer for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said Tuesday that his agency is looking at a “potential exclusion” for the submarine canyons that stretch as far north as Maine and as far south as Virginia.
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management employees were available Tuesday to members of the public who had questions about the proposal, which is still in its very early stages.
Comments will be accepted on the agency’s website until March 9.
Outside, Klein said activists are against Trump’s plan because “it destroys Connecticut’s opportunity to have off-shore wind [energy].” She said after they “drill the heck out of our coastlines, we won’t be able to build that infrastructure.”
Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said the proposal is “an assault on our way of life in Connecticut.”
So far, more than 160 East Coast municipalities and over 1,200 local, state and federal elected officials have opposed offshore drilling and seismic airgun blasting, which is used to explore deposits.
Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, joined six other governors last month in opposing the “leasing, exploration, development and production of oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean as proposed by the 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.”
In addition to Malloy, the governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland signed onto a Jan. 17 letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
“Not only are ocean and oceanside resources at risk, but also nearby bays, estuaries, coastal communities, iconic natural areas, and ports,” the governors wrote. “The irreversible impact on ecosystems including marine mammals, fish, sea turtles, and other aquatic life that inhabit the ocean offshore is gravely concerning, as is potential risk and harm to our state’s economies, our natural resources, our military installations, and our residents.”
In an earlier statement, Malloy called the proposal “another disgraceful and unnecessary action from an administration that has taken us light years backwards in the fight against climate change.”
The offshore drilling proposal is also opposed by Connecticut’s U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats.
Blumenthal said it would be a “devastating, irreversible disaster for economies and environments from coast to coast.” Murphy said he wants President Trump to take Connecticut residents’ concerns into account “as he apparently did when providing Florida with an exemption.”
According to conservation group Oceana, numerous fishing and tourism interests, including local chambers of commerce, tourism and restaurant associations, and an alliance representing over 41,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families from Florida to Maine, also oppose oil exploration or development in the Atlantic.
The South, Mid-Atlantic and New England Fishery Management Councils have all expressed concerns about the risks posed by seismic surveys and oil and gas development to managed resources, fisheries and coastal communities along the Atlantic coast.
According to the Interior Department, an estimated 3 billion barrels of oil lay beneath the coastal waters of the United States, plus 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
“Previous administrations took 94 percent of the outer continental shelf [energy resources] and made it off limits for energy development,” Secretary Zinke said in January. “The Interior was the number two revenue generator in this country [in 2008.] We made $18 billion alone in offshore drilling. In 2016 that number dropped to $2.6 billion. We lost $15 billion in revenue a year.”