Virginia Is for Ocean Lovers: House Votes to Block Drilling

This post was co-authored with Aaron Rosenbluth.

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Source: USFWS

My fellow Virginians and I today are celebrating the passage of a bill that will help protect Virginia’s communities and coastal economy from the risky business of offshore oil and gas drilling. The bipartisan vote of 64-34 in favor of House Bill 706 reflects Virginians’ growing understanding that offshore oil and gas drilling is an inherently dirty, dangerous endeavor that can cause oil spills along with air and water pollution—all of which threaten the $2.7 billion generated annually in the Commonwealth by industries that rely on clean beaches and a healthy ocean. A similar Senate companion, Senate Bill 795, also passed last week with bipartisan support. Thanks to the hard work and determination of the Virginia Coastal Alliance, a coalition that has fought for years to protect Virginia’s coast, and the bill’s chief patrons, Delegate Keam and Senator Lewis, House Bill 706 makes three significant changes to state law to better protect Virginians from the dangers of offshore drilling.

First, House Bill 706 prohibits infrastructure from Commonwealth waters that could be used to transport oil or gas from federal waters to Virginia’s shores. This would greatly inhibit the economic viability of drilling in the area, should the federal government make it possible.

Second, House Bill 706 repeals language in the state code that says it is the policy of the Commonwealth to support federal efforts to explore for offshore oil and gas, permit the production and development of offshore oil and gas, and to be included in any federal offshore oil and gas leasing program. Statute requires the U.S. Department of the Interior to consider the “laws, goals, and policies” of affected states as it decides where and when to lease offshore tracts for drilling. Repealing this provision of the Virginia code aligns the official policy of the Commonwealth with the sentiments of Virginians.

Finally, House Bill 706 repeals harmful revenue sharing language in the state code that could also give the false impression that the Commonwealth promotes or sanctions offshore oil and gas drilling and revenue sharing, which would perpetuate the Commonwealth’s reliance on fossil fuels at a time we need to be moving away from them.

These shifts in the Commonwealth’s positioning towards offshore drilling are only possible thanks to the groundswell of public opposition to drilling that has been steadily building in Virginia ever since the release of the Trump Administration’s proposed plan. Indeed, people with a wide range of views, representing Virginia’s military, space, aquaculture, and tourism industries have all spoken out against the Trump Administration’s reckless drilling scheme.

In his remarks to the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Lewis, the chief patron of SB795, the Senate companion bill, noted that every municipality in his Eastern Shore district, “beginning with Chincoteague at the northern end of the eastern shore all the way down…to Virginia Beach” has passed either an ordinance or a resolution opposing offshore drilling. Today’s vote reflects the bipartisan and widespread resolve of Virginians to put communities and coastlines over oil and gas company profits.

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