Gov. Andrew Cuomo Friday announces a bill aimed to block the federal government plan to allow offshore drilling. Courtesy photo: Gov. Andrew Cuomo

A bill aimed at blocking the federal government’s plan to open coastal waters to drilling for oil and gas was introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday.

The governor’s “Save Our Waters” program bill would prohibit leases for oil and gas exploration or production in New York waters, prohibit infrastructure on state land associated with offshore production in the North Atlantic; and prohibit transportation within the navigable waters of the state of crude oil produced from the federal waters designated as the “North Atlantic Planning Area.”

Cuomo has also launched an online petition in opposition to the federal offshore drilling proposal.

Federal Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke in January announced plans to make more than 90 percent of the total offshore acreage in the United States, including two areas of the North Atlantic coast adjacent to New York, available to oil and gas drilling.

The draft plan was developed pursuant to an executive order signed in April 2017 by President Donald Trump, who advocates increased offshore drilling and has moved to roll back “too restrictive” safety regulations established by the federal government after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. The explosion on the rig killed 11 people and spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the sea — the worst oil oil spill in American history.

The offshore drilling plan is enthusiastically supported by the oil and gas industry. Th National Ocean Industries Association said a study it conducted with the American Petroleum Institute concluded offshore oil and gas development in the Atlantic could create nearly 280,000 new jobs, spur an additional $195 billion in new private investment, contribute up to $24 billion per year to the U.S. economy, generate $51 billion in new revenue for the government, and add 1.3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day to domestic energy production through 2035.

But the plan drew almost immediate bipartisan condemnation from officials at every level of government in coastal states around the country, including bipartisan opposition in Congress. Among the opponents is NY-01 Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley). Hundreds of municipalities have adopted resolutions opposing the proposal. After opposition from Florida’s governor, the federal agency announced it had removed the waters surrounding Florida from the proposal — which prompted governors of other states, including Cuomo, to demand the same treatment.

At his announcement of the bill Friday afternoon in New York City, Cuomo said the federal plan
“will devastate our coastal economies and cause irreparable harm to the environment.” He cited the noise and vibration that accompanies exploration, which he said is greater than a jet engine, as detrimental to all types of marine life. The construction of oil production platforms damages the environment. And the risk of an oil spill and its consequences are too great, he said.

“One mistake can literally damage an ecosystem for decades,” Cuomo said.

A spill would cripple Long Island’s nearly $6 billion tourism industry and devastate New York’s fishing industry, the governor said.

“It is just an unacceptable risk. It is that simple. And it defies common sense. Our belief is the only energy activity offshore should be wind turbines,” Cuomo said.

New York will do everything it can to stop the federal government’s plan, the governor said — including continuing to press the interior secretary for an exemption like the one granted Florida, which Cuomo called politically motivated. He called on New York’s officials at all levels of government to continue to voice their opposition to the plan and on advocacy groups to work to organize citizens to oppose it.

“We need the environmental community and informed citizens to stand up and say this makes no sense in the state of New York,” he said.

The Assembly can be expected to act quickly to pass the “Save Our Waters” bill, Cuomo said, predicting that the Republican-controlled Senate might not be quick to act on it. He called on the Senate to take up the bill and call a vote because “people have a right to know where they stand.”

State Senator Ken LaValle, a veteran Republican lawmaker whose First Senate District takes in the entire East End and much of Brookhaven, went on record against the federal plan in January.

“Our shoreline is too sensitive. We have a sensitive marine life. I don’t think it’s a good idea for Long Island,” he told RiverheadLOCAL in an interview in January.

“Our commercial fishermen have a hard enough time as it is. Now they’ve got to dodge windmills and we’re going to add oil riggings to that too?” LaValle asked.

Cuomo said Friday New York State is prepared to go to court to stop offshore drilling.

“The federal government should hear my message. There is no how, no way we will ever allow offshore drilling,” Cuomo said.

“We’re going to advocate, we’ll pass the law, we’ll go to court, if that doesn’t work we’re going to take a page out of the book of Winston Churchill and Dunkirk,” Cuomo said, pledging to “commission a citizen fleet” to “interfere with their federal effort just as Winston Churchill did in Dunkirk,” he said.

“If you think I’m kidding, I’m not, and I’m going to lead that citizen fleet.”

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.