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Long Islanders voice opposition to Trump’s offshore drilling plan

Assemb. Steven Englebright, right, seen in December 2017,

Assemb. Steven Englebright, right, seen in December 2017, convened the Long Island hearing Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, a day ahead of the Interior Department's public meeting in Albany. Credit: Charles Eckert

Oil and gas drilling off Long Island’s South Shore has the potential to devastate coastal economies and industries, and cause irreparable harm to the environment, a contingent of lawmakers, environmentalists and others told a state hearing in Hauppauge on Wednesday.

The group included a representative from state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s office, who said the office was prepared to sue the Trump administration to block any oil or gas drilling plan off the New York coast.

It also included Randy King, co-chairman of the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s council of trustees, who indicated the Southampton tribe’s sovereign standing and intergovernmental role over historic sites and waters could be used to oppose President Donald Trump’s plan. “This is an issue that galvanizes people,” King said in an interview, adding his tribe “never abrogated our role” as stewards of the land and waters around Long Island. “The way to go about this is to push more toward renewable energy,” he said.

Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) strategically convened the hearing a day in advance of a U.S. Interior Department’s scheduled public meeting on the topic in Albany, one largely criticized as misplaced given its distance from potentially impacted communities on Long Island.

Participants used their strongest language to date to condemn the Trump administration’s plan to open nearly the entire U.S. coastline three miles or more from shore to oil and gas exploration and drilling.

“It’s the single worst idea to come out of Washington in the last year,” Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) said, adding it “jeopardizes the quality of life for all areas of Long Island.”

“This is not something that the people of Long Island will stand for,” Thiele said.

Representatives for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which manages coastal waters for energy uses and is coordinating the federal meetings, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shay O’Reilly of the Sierra Club, an environmental group, said Trump’s “dangerous” plan “threatens to submerge Long Island” by exacerbating the factors that lead to climate change.

Assemb. Christine Pellegrino (D-West Islip) accused the federal government of “trying to take us backwards at a time when we should be taking bold steps forward in the protection of our planet.”

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine, a Republican, said the effects of oil and gas drilling “could decimate our coastline,” particularly fragile ecosystems on Fire Island. “Oil and water do not mix and should not mix,” he said.

Suffolk Legis. Bridget Fleming, who represents the South Fork, called the plan “strikingly inappropriate,” particularly for the Hamptons, while Michael Tangney, acting city manager for Long Beach, noted “a spill of any kind could do severe damage to our already fragile coastline,” one just recovering from the ravages of superstorm Sandy.

Carl Safina, professor of nature and humanity at Stony Brook University, said though the prospect of a big oil spill is a concern, the greater threat of the Trump plan is the “day-to-day” impact of “chasing oil.”

“I’m more worried about the day-to-day of oil extraction,” he said, the “increased tanker traffic,” the “smell of petroleum, the daily chronic oil spills, the port expansion.”

“No new areas at all should be explored for gas and oil,” Safina said.

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