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Lawmakers: NY bill would stymie Trump's offshore drilling plan

The State Legislature is expected to approve a bill that would prohibit state agencies from processing applications for pipelines or other services needed to facilitate offshore drilling.

An oil drilling rig is seen in the

An oil drilling rig is seen in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Seal Beach, Calif., on Jan. 4, 2018. After the Trump administration announced plans to dramatically expand offshore drilling in most U.S. coastal waters, the New York State Leguislature is looking to approve a bill they hope would handicap any federal attempt to permit offshore drilling for oil or gas anywhere near New York. Photo Credit: EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock/Eugene Garcia

ALBANY — The state Legislature is looking to approve a bill its leaders believe would be an obstacle to any federal attempt to permit offshore drilling for oil and gas anywhere near New York’s waters.

The bill, which the Senate plans to approve Monday, would prohibit state agencies from processing applications for pipelines or any other transportation and distribution services needed to facilitate offshore drilling. The Assembly hasn't scheduled a vote yet, but approved a similar measure last year.

The legislation, lawmakers said, is a response to President Donald Trump’s initiative in January 2018 to open nearly all of the U.S.’s coastal waters to oil and gas drilling. That includes opening as many as nine leases to drill along the Eastern Seaboard.

Though the bill applies to state waters (which generally halt 3 miles offshore) and not federal waters, backers believe it will give the state a way to slow, if not effectively block, any requests to drill in the Atlantic Ocean near New York waters.

“It will be very hard to get the transmission lines and all the infrastructure you need without state permits,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who is sponsoring the bill along with another Long Islander, Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket).

 “The onshore activities that support offshore drilling would come under scrutiny. Anything dealing with procurement and distribution,” Englebright said, adding: “Things like barges and pipelines.”

Others said it may give New York only a limited control of commerce related to drilling, but makes an important statement about the state's view of the issue. 

The bill mirrors one Englebright introduced just weeks after Trump’s 2018 announcement. Though the Democrat-led Assembly approved it, that bill died in the then-Republican-led state Senate. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, submitted a similar proposal last May, but it too stalled. Democrats won control of the Senate in November’s elections, giving the bill new life.

Cuomo, also last year, formally requested New York be excluded from the federal Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Program. But the Trump administration hasn’t responded. Despite similar requests from other states, the administration has granted just one exemption, to Florida.

“It introduces the unprecedented risk of extremely hazardous oil spills, contributes to the acceleration of climate change, and conflicts with New York’s ambitious agenda to develop offshore wind energy,” Cuomo said in a letter to the U.S. Interior Department last year.

While the Trump administration in November approved seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean for oil and gas, New York in December joined eight other Eastern Seaboard states in an environmental lawsuit seeking to block drilling.

 The Trump administration last year said it intended to hold 47 lease sales between 2019 and 2024, with the bulk of the tracts sited either in the Gulf of Mexico or off the Alaska coast. Doing so would reverse a ban implemented by then-President Barack Obama following the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is a start on looking at American energy dominance,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said when announcing the proposal. 

 In Albany, the opposition to coastal drilling has been bipartisan this year so far. The Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee recently approved Englebright’s bill, 29-0.

 “While it’s nice to have energy independence, my concern is the environment,” Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-Huntington), one of many Republicans who voted for the bill.

“I also want to protect my commercial fisherman,” Raia added, saying offshore drilling would be “horrific” for the Island’s fishing industry.

Assemb. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) generally has a conservative, "pro-business" voting record but said he supports the ban because drilling "may have a huge detrimental effect" on Long Island's environment. He acknowledged his view contrasts with a Republican administration in Washington.

"In this particular situation, the benefits don't outweigh the harms. That's where we differ from the (Trump) administration," Palumbo said. "We're cut from a different cloth."

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