WASHINGTON — State and federal lawmakers from both parties have joined East Coast business interests to persuade the Trump administration to halt its plan for fossil fuel development in the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s a surprisingly diverse collection of power players: members of Congress, dozens of lawmakers from both red and blue states, nine attorneys general, six governors and thousands of business owners from Florida through the Carolinas and up to New Jersey.

They hope that mix and their economic, not environmental, argument will sway President Trump’s Interior Department as it nears a decision on testing that could open the door to oil and gas exploration, and eventually drilling, off the coast.

“The wall of opposition that has been built up to Atlantic drilling and seismic testing is amazing,” said Frank Knapp, chief executive of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce and president of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, an organization supported by more than 41,000 businesses and 500,000 commercial fishing families on the East Coast.

Environmental groups have worked for years to stop oil and gas development, focusing on the threat it poses to coastal marine life. Lawmakers and business leaders, however, are raising concerns about the economic effect that seismic testing and drilling could have on the multibillion-dollar coastal tourism and fishing industries.

Time is running out for them to make the case. The Interior Department is now reviewing whether to allow the first-ever seismic tests in the Atlantic and whether to allow oil and natural gas leasing there as well after both activities were barred by the Obama administration.


Many in the business and environmental communities expected Interior to quickly sign off on seismic testing once the public comment period ended in July. That’s because Trump had issued an executive order in April that called for making millions of acres of federal coastal waters available for oil and gas leasing.

“That fear was real,” Knapp said of issuing permits for testing. “So we did everything we could to activate Congress, to activate the governors, the attorney generals and business voices to where (the government) ended up getting more than 80,000 public comments. And I guarantee, 99 percent were opposing it.”

Ocean-related commerce, from the hotel and restaurant industry to recreational and commercial fishing, generates $95 billion in economic activity each year and supports nearly 1.4 million jobs on the Atlantic coast, members of Congress argued in a recent letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Offshore drilling supporters say Atlantic exploration and drilling would bring more jobs and economic development to the East Coast. But opponents say restaurants, hotels and other businesses could be jeopardized by the possibility of a large oil spill, like the one that damaged comparable businesses in Gulf states following the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Attorneys general of nine states have voiced their opposition to seismic testing, along with more than 100 members of Congress and 14 U.S. senators. Another 107 members of Congress have also opposed drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

The governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware have voiced their opposition to seismic testing or drilling.

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