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Mainers Hold Alternative to Federal Offshore-Oil Meeting

The plan proposes opening 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas development. (catmoz/Pixabay)
The plan proposes opening 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas development. (catmoz/Pixabay)
March 7, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine — Environmental groups say the federal public meeting on a proposal to allow oil and gas drilling in Atlantic waters isn't really a hearing.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management event had been scheduled for January but was postponed when the budget impasse in Washington forced a government shutdown. It's finally happening today in Augusta, but according to Melissa Gates, Northeast regional manager at the Surfrider Foundation, what will be taking place is more of an open house where the public can meet one-on-one with officials and file written comments electronically.

"It certainly limits the accessibility for Mainers in hearing the concerns of others and being able to speak freely about the proposal,” Gates said.

Citing Maine's dependence on oil for heating homes and the potential for lower prices, Gov. Paul LePage is the only Atlantic Coast governor supporting the drilling plan.

Environmentalists, public officials and community groups are holding their own event at the Augusta Civic Center to explain their opposition. That event will begin with a news conference outlining what Gates described as the threats drilling could pose to Maine's environment, fisheries and tourism.

"That will be immediately followed by providing an actual public hearing for Mainers to be able to speak their piece and hear from their neighbors about why this proposal is detrimental to the marine environment and to them specifically,” she said.

The governor's office expects a final plan would exclude environmentally sensitive areas.

But Gates pointed out that from rising sea levels to acidification, pollution to over-fishing, the ocean already is experiencing unprecedented levels of stress.

"As a resource that helps regulate our climate and provides us with upward of 70 percent of the oxygen we need to sustain life on the planet,” she said, “really the ocean needs our help right now, not more poor development schemes like this offshore oil and gas development plan."

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is accepting written public comments on the proposed development plan through Friday, March 9.

More information is available here.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - ME