Let’s do a thought exercise about seeking advice:
If you’re trying to find the best way to invest money – and avoid pitfalls – you’d go ask folks on Wall Street.
Maybe your farm isn’t yielding the amount of crops that it could. A trip to your cooperative extension service might do the trick. Or perhaps your child is struggling in the classroom; wouldn’t parents find a tutor to help?
You get the point.
So it makes me skeptical of federal officials about their approach to collecting comments on drilling for gas and oil off Virginia and North Carolina.
As The Pilot’s Dave Mayfield reported, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management scheduled public meetings for both states far away from the people most affected if big rigs are erected. The first was scheduled for Wednesday in Richmond, before the meeting was postponed because of the expected snow. North Carolina’s will be in Raleigh late next month.
Now, I wouldn’t go to communities on Virginia’s Eastern Shore to find out about life in a heavily populous, inner city. (No offense to Accomack and Northampton counties.)
Why, then, are the feds hosting discussions in Richmond – about two hours from the ocean? It’s a lengthy trek across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, including gas and tolls, for the shore’s residents. The same goes for Raleigh, which is far inland from the folks on the Outer Banks and elsewhere in the Tar Heel State.
Unless BOEM officials don’t want those comments. A spokeswoman said the bureau chose capital cities because they “are meant to serve all of a state’s citizens and are generally located in a centralized location.”
That doesn’t wash. The people who live in and near Richmond would be less affected than their counterparts in Hampton Roads by the derricks lurking in the Atlantic.
The Trump administration this month proposed to open the Atlantic and other federal bodies of water to oil and gas exploration. But it’s not like offshore drilling has oceans of supporters among Virginia officials, the military, or residents whose livelihoods depend on the water. The same is true among many elected officials, from both parties, along the coasts in other states.
Drilling is a threat to tourism, especially in places like Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks. It’s a threat to military training, and to keeping our aircraft carriers in the region. It’s a threat to aquaculture, too.
Installations like NASA Wallops Flight Facility would feel the impact. The cost of liability insurance would rise because of the possibility of aborted rockets striking the rigs, even if the odds were small.
Those risks might be worth it if states – like the commonwealth – got an equitable share of royalties.
Such largesse isn’t going to happen. The feds have made it abundantly clear we’d take all the risks, yet get few of the monetary benefits.
What a deal.
Maybe that’s why federal bureau officials really don’t want an earful from officials and residents who crave exemptions from energy exploration.
It shouldn’t take a cozy, partisan relationship to earn such a ban. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, recently complained to the feds. The Interior Department then yanked Florida’s offshore waters from consideration for drilling.
I doubt the president wants the coastal views desecrated from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., either.
I know people can still deliver comments online or by snail mail (follow the link at http://bit.ly/2D4QbND). So you’re not completely shut out.
Funny thing about email, though: There’s no nuance. Nor would federal officials actually hear the anxiety and emotion from people affected by drilling. Local watermen, for example, fear the loss of jobs.
In 2015, when similar meetings were held in Virginia, 170 people attended in Norfolk, and Accomack County had around 60.
Federal officials shouldn’t surmise that if fewer people show up this time around, folks care any less about the impact – especially the downsides – of drilling.