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Green Groups to Obama: Take Oceans Out of Offshore Drilling 'Crosshairs'

Coalition to deliver two million petitions as White House gears up for review of oil lease sales

The petitions ask that the administration exclude the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from its five-year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) energy project. (Photo: Maersk Drilling/flickr/cc)

On Wednesday, a coalition of lawmakers and environmental advocacy groups will deliver more than two million petitions calling on President Barack Obama to put an end to offshore drilling on the grounds that it is a threat to the climate, public health, and frontline communities.

The petitions are specifically asking that the administration exclude the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from its five-year Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) energy project, which outlines upcoming oil and gas offshore drilling plans. The White House and the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management are due to review and update the program in the coming weeks, which will be followed by a public comment period. The OCS plan oversees offshore oil lease sales from 2017 to 2022.

The coalition includes Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkely (D-Ore.), along with executives from the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, 350, and other environmental and Indigenous leaders, who will present the petitions during a press conference at 2pm on Wednesday.

"Our message is simple: 'protect our communities, protect our oceans, protect our climate.' ... Offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous business," the organizers stated on their event page.

"We are at a critical moment for the future of our coastal states," Markey said in a statement to Bloomberg. "Right now, the Department of Interior is considering an offshore drilling plan that will put our beaches, our fishermen and our environment on the East Coast in the crosshairs for an oil spill that could devastate our shores and our economies."

According to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), Obama's forthcoming plan is expected to include measures to limit offshore drilling to specific zones, "adding strength to the people's call for leaders to keep fossil fuels in the ground."

It's a call that keeps gathering support, particularly in the wake of Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline in 2015. More than 100 communities along the East Coast have passed resolutions opposing oil and gas extraction in their waters. That includes the nation's capital, where the city council voted unanimously against drilling and seismic activities.

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State and local leaders are not just lining up against the prospect of opening up their coasts to fossil fuel exploration—they're also doing it with conviction.

"The ocean is one of our biggest assets but also one of our greatest adversaries. We use it as a source of commerce and recreation," said Mayor John Moor of Asbury Park, New Jersey, which announced its opposition on Sunday. "But its power is great, and we understand that with the benefits come the natural risks that we must prepare for and resolve. To face a new man-made opponent such as offshore drilling, which could have consequences far beyond what storms such as Sandy and Irene have brought... is inexcusable."

There's also Kure Beach, North Carolina, which, under Mayor Emilie Swearingen—who campaigned on a platform opposing oil and gas extraction—in January became the 100th town on the East Coast to pass a resolution against offshore drilling and seismic testing.

"We’re here because this is absolute paradise, and you cannot find a better place in the world to live than right here in this beautiful, beautiful clean beach,” Swearingen told ThinkProgress on Wednesday. "This is where all of us want to be for the rest of our lives, and sometimes some things like that are more important than money."

It is particularly important to limit drilling in the Atlantic, which has been the site of devastating oil spills, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, RAN said.

"The BP disaster shows how the industry is incapable of cleaning up its own catastrophes and should be barred from causing further harm," the group said, adding that it demands "no sacrifice zones that unfairly impact low-income communities of color. No piecemeal change that abandons one zone in exchange for another."

RAN executive director Lindsey Allen said, "Compromise on climate, on health, on equity, is tragedy for all—we need to halt fossil fuel leasing in our public waters and lands. Not only for climate change, but for communities who are suffering from the grip of Big Oil."

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