Tuesday 26 September 2017

Victory! Today, the Interior Department announced as part of a new five-year drilling plan, virtually all of the Arctic and the southeast Atlantic coast of the U.S. will become off limits for offshore drilling.

Secretary Jewel Tweeted: BREAKING Next 5-year offshore proposed plan protects the Atlantic for future generations.SJ

Thanks to the hard work of the Assateague Coastal Trust, Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and our many partners like Oceana who organized over 100 local cities and towns up and down the East Coast to oppose offshore drilling. Matt Heim from Assateague Coastal Trust worked tirelessly to get several coastal towns in Maryland and Delaware to pass resolutions against offshore drilling. On Virginia’s eastern shore, Jay Ford worked to get Accomack and Northampton counties to send their concerns to the Administration, the only Virginia counties that did. Matt, Jay and several residents traveled to Washington D.C. and Richmond to let officials know offshore drilling would be detrimental to our economy, culture and clean water. Last August, over a hundred kayaktivists gathered off the shore of Ocean City at Float for the Coast to protest offshore drilling during the annual Maryland counties meeting.

"The Eastern Shore spoke with a united voice in defense of clean waters and we have been heard," Virginia Eastern Shorekeeper Jay Ford. 

“This is an incredible day for our coastal towns,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director. “It represents the hard work of our Waterkeepers and thousands of people up and down the Atlantic coast. It protects some of our most cherished places, from our Virginia and Maryland coasts to the Chesapeake Bay. It is a great day when our voices are heard and our waters are protected.”

"While the threat of seismic airguns is still out there in the Atlantic, the removal of the mid and south Atlantic from the 5 Year Leasing Program is a HUGE Victory that could ultimately seal the deal on seismic airguns as well!," Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips.

In a statement from the Department of Interior: “We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” added Secretary Jewell. “When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years.”

Marc Yaggi, Executive Director of Waterkeeper Alliance, reacted to the plan:

“We are pleased that President Obama responded to concerns of businesses and residents along the East Coast by removing the Atlantic Ocean from the areas open to offshore drilling. This is wonderful news for the Atlantic coast economy and millions of Americans who want to keep treasured beaches from Florida to Virginia oil free. That said, to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to keep a vast majority of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. This requires decisive action, including stopping offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean."

In its opinion in three cases involving MS4 permits, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) is complying with the bare minimum legal requirements for municipal storm sewer system regulations.Weak MS4 permitting in Baltimore City will allow for continued illicit runoff.

“That may be good enough for the court and for MDE, but meeting the bare minimum requirement is not good enough for our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said David Flores, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper, one of the challengers in the case. 

It has been several years since these cases first began wending their way through the Maryland courts. Although the outcome was not what they had hoped it would be, the plaintiffs will continue to advocate for a more rigorous and transparent process as part of the five-year renewal cycle.

Some of these permits will renew as early as 2018. That will be a time for each jurisdiction (Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties) to step up their efforts to strengthen their permits — and for the public to be engaged in demanding more from their governing entities.

Finally, while we may have to accept this court’s opinion as little more than a token toward water quality improvements, the court did not exempt MDE from using its enforcement tools to require compliance to these baseline goals. We know that the EPA Region 3 (Chesapeake Bay inclusive) has put MDE on notice for its lack of compliance review.

"Stormwater is the only pollution sector in the Chesapeake that is actually increasing, so our Riverkeepers are going to have redouble their efforts to monitor and ensure compliance with the permit terms," said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake.

“Maryland cannot keep doing the bare minimum required under the law if it wants to have any hope of cleaning up and protecting its rivers and streams,” said Jennifer Chavez of Earthjustice, who argued the case before the Court of Appeals. “Community and conservation groups across Maryland will continue pressing MDE to issue stronger stormwater pollution limits.”

The removal of the "impaired" designation for the 53 river segments in 17 Maryland counties, including on the Eastern Shore, and Baltimore City effectively gives the rivers the same Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) pollution diet as the main stem of the Chesapeake Bay.

"Pollution doesn't just originate in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay," Waterkeepers Chesapeake Executive Director Elizabeth Nicholas said. "We have to look at all of the smaller creeks and streams that are suffering impaired water quality throughout the watershed."

READ MORE: StarDem.com, March 9, 2016