Coastal governors decry limited role in offshore drilling plan

The Obama administration ignored the wishes of coastal leaders when assembling a plan for offshore drilling near their shores, says a group of Republican governors from Texas, Louisiana and other states.

In a letter to President Barack Obama late Wednesday and obtained exclusively by Hearst Newspapers, the pro-drilling governors say they are “concerned about the lack of communication from the federal government on critical matters that affect our coastal development.”

In particular, the group complains that the Interior Department did not consult properly with coastal states on its a plan for selling offshore oil and gas drilling leases from 2012-2017 before finalizing the plan in June.

The five-year offshore lease plan focuses on allowing oil and gas development in already-explored areas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic, while ruling out lease sales in Atlantic waters, despite pressure from some Virginia officials eager for exploration off the commonwealth’s shores.

The administration’s program sets up 12 Gulf of Mexico lease sales as well as the possibility of three auctions for rights to drill in waters near Alaska.

The nine governors who wrote Obama on Wednesday under the umbrella of the year-old Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition described that drilling plan as anemic.

“The administration fails to expand adequate access to resource-abundant areas in the Arctic and fails to establish leasing in the Mid- and South-Atlantic,” the group said. And Arctic lease sales “may never occur,” the governors said, because the government is requiring further study of that area.

Under the administration’s targeted-leasing approach to Arctic and Alaskan waters, federal regulators will decide what acreage to put on the auction block in a bid to avoid harming wildlife and the indigenous communities that depend on whaling and fishing for food.

The governors also criticized the administration for closing the door to eventually allowing and expediting more than the 12 scheduled auctions in the Gulf of Mexico, even though several sales were delayed after the 2010 oil spill. Gulf Coast states claim a share of federal royalty revenue for oil and gas produced near their shores.

Signers were Govs. Rick Perry of Texas, Sean Parnell of Alaska, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Robert Bentley of Alabama, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and Robert McDonnell of Virginia.

Interior Department spokeswoman Kate Kelly rejected the governors’ complaint about poor consultation.

“In developing the five-year program, Interior conducted outreach and sought input from all 50 states, tribes and other stakeholders,” Kelly said. “Through multiple venues, including formal comment periods and public hearings, states provided feedback that helped inform the final plan.”

Tommy Beaudreau, the head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that assembled the leasing program, told Congress in May that his agency conducted public hearings in Gulf Coast states, Washington, and across Alaska’s North Slope and considered more than 280,000 public comments in crafting the final sale schedule.

Federal officials first began seeking public input on the five-year program with a formal request for information in August 2008.

When the coastal governors coalition formed in May 2011, the top offshore drilling regulator at the time, Michael Bromwich, sent a letter to the group inviting them to talk about coastal exploration and noted that he regularly met with Louisiana officials on the issue. Bromwich later said the coalition had not taken him up on his invitation to meet.

Separately, Beaudreau has defended the administration’s targeted-leasing plan for Arctic and Alaskan waters as an approach that takes local communities’ needs — as well as other factors — into account.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which governs oil and gas leasing in federal waters, requires the government to consult with coastal states and localities while developing leasing programs.

The coastal governors coalition said it still is waiting for a response to a letter it sent the White House in March asking for a dialogue about offshore development.

“For five months, this administration has ignored our outreach attempting to improve the state-federal dialogue,” said Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle.

Randall Luthi, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said the governors were “wise to point out the flaws” in the administration’s “deeply disappointing five-year plan.”

A government advisory committee comprising state and local government leaders, which for more than three decades counseled the Interior Department on offshore leasing, exploration and development, was disbanded in 2010.

The House of Representatives voted last month to reject the administration’s five-year drilling plan and replace it with a more aggressive leasing plan backed by GOP leaders, which would schedule 29 auctions over the next five years. A bipartisan coalition in the Senate also is advancing an expanded leasing plan.

But any move to toss out the Obama administration’s five-year offshore program would halt pending lease sales, including a Nov. 28 auction of drilling rights in the western Gulf of Mexico. It almost certainly would trigger a new round of environmental studies of any new sale schedule that could take more than a year to complete.

A copy of the coastal governor’s letter to Obama is below:

Coastal governors’ letter to Obama on 5-year OCS plan

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