If Pat McCrory had started a second term as governor a year ago, we would today be barreling toward allowing drilling off the North Carolina coast. But Roy Cooper won and he is digging in to fight the Trump administration’s plan to open the state’s waters to oil rigs.
McCrory was a big offshore drilling backer, pleading Washington for it despite nearly unanimous opposition by coastal residents and governments.
“We have got to get into the exploration business in North Carolina,” McCrory said in December 2013. “We’re reeling from sitting on the sidelines for the past decade, which we should have never done.”
Compare that with Cooper this week: “This is what Washington needs to know,” he said. “If North Carolina is not exempt from offshore drilling, we will sue the federal government. Not off our coast.”
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It’s not a strictly partisan issue, however. Congressmen and state and local elected officials from both parties are asking Donald Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, to protect the coasts. They include Republican Reps. Mark Sanford, Walter Jones, Tom Rice and S.C. Gov. (and early Trump backer) Henry McMaster.
“The importance of the coast in North Carolina is not a partisan issue. The importance of tourism and fisheries to the economic and ecological health of our state knows no parties,” Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, told the Observer editorial board this week.
It’s not clear precisely what legal grounds North Carolina could use to challenge offshore drilling. But Stein suggested Zinke’s impulsive decision last week to protect Florida from drilling could be an element. Days after the Trump administration unveiled its proposal, Zinke met briefly with Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott and immediately announced that Florida would be excluded.
At least two problems with that: First, as Sierra Club leader Michael Brune said, federal agency actions, by law, cannot be “arbitrary and capricious,” and Zinke’s exemption for Florida appears to be the definition of that. (As a result, the administration is now backing away, suggesting Zinke’s statement that Florida is “off the table” does not mean that Florida is off the table.)
Second, in pardoning Florida, Zinke essentially admitted that drilling poses an environmental and economic risk.
“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke said.
Translation: Oil rigs are a threat to tourism. Well, Secretary Zinke, North Carolina’s coast is also reliant on tourism as an economic driver, to the tune of $3 billion, according to Cooper. True, there could be some economic benefit to the state, but the risk is too high.
Zinke also said in Florida he values local and state voices on the issue. With McCrory now in a radio studio, the governor’s voice is against it – as are dozens of coastal communities.
The only drilling we need is Cooper drilling his message into Zinke’s head, exploring for reason.