- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
For a state heavily dependent on Navy operations and tourism to drive its economy, particularly in Hampton Roads, Virginia should welcome efforts to permanently ban oil and gas exploration off the coast.
The prospect of drilling rigs perched in the Atlantic — with their perpetual threat of environmental calamity — should send shivers across the commonwealth, and a new push to enact a ban deserves Virginia’s enthusiastic endorsement.
Rep. Donald McEachin, a Democrat representing Virginia’s 4th Congressional District, introduced a bill barring the Interior Department from issuing leases for exploration or production of oil or gas off Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Delaware. McEachin has introduced similar legislation in the past, but it got nowhere.
In recent years, the fate of drilling off Virginia’s coast has been swinging in the partisan political winds.
President Barack Obama argued passionately about halting offshore oil exploration to help wean the United States from dependence on fossil fuels. But the catastrophic 2010 Deep Water Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico saw his administration pause, and then resume, such risky drilling.
Obama only included Virginia in an East Coast drilling moratorium in December 2016 — literally one of his last acts as president — rather than making a ban a point of emphasis for his administration.
His successor acted in far more cynical fashion. A supporter of exploration wherever oil and gas companies wanted, President Donald Trump doled out drilling bans to political allies and in order to curry favor with votes.
Thus Republican-led Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were on his administration’s drilling ban, while Virginia, which voted for Hillary Clinton, was not.
Running for reelection, Trump dangled the prospect of a drilling ban at a campaign rally in Newport News, saying he’d extend the moratorium on his drilling plan to Virginia and North Carolina.
There could hardly be a more compelling argument for why Congress, not the president, should be making such decisions as part of a comprehensive national strategy. These choices echo for generations and shouldn’t be subject to the whims of any chief executive.
Of course, getting Congress to agree on anything — even a Congress under the control of one party — is a tall order. That helps explain why McEachin isn’t waiting for a nationwide ban. He’s moving forward with his bill to protect Virginia and our neighbors and has said he expects bipartisan support.
He has the support of the governor and many state officials, as well as most officials and residents here in Hampton Roads, who recognize the need to be unrelenting defenders of our coast.
A ban is essential for the immediate and long-range future of Virginia. Despite the Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil companies are still permitted to run dangerous operations that could cause irreversible harm to the coast.
Oil rigs and the possibilities of a spill would threaten the tourism and fisheries that are so essential to the Hampton Roads region. They could jeopardize the Navy’s extensive operations in Hampton Roads and along the coast.
Prolonging our dependence on dwindling supplies of fossil fuels means dragging the United States back into an unsustainable past. President Joe Biden also has signaled that the United States will resume its proper role as a leader in the fight against global warming, and that means moving as quickly as possible toward cleaner energy.
With a firm ban in place, political and business leaders in Hampton Roads and Virginia could fully commit to developing cleaner energy sources. Our region could become a leader in the forward-looking green energy economy, with the added benefit of protecting our existing natural resources and economic mainstays.
The Navy, well aware that cleaner, cheaper, renewable energy is vital for a secure future, already has an ambitious Renewable Energy Program.
Offshore drilling is clearly a bad idea. Moving toward cleaner, renewable energy is essential for everyone’s future. A greener future should be a goal for all Virginians, and all Americans, without regard to partisan politics.