North Carolinians have one shot to voice their opinions in person about offshore drilling at a single public hearing. So far, February 26th in Raleigh is the only scheduled “open house”. But Democratic Governor Roy Cooper is asking Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke for a 60-day extension of the public comment period and three additional public hearings – all at the coast. This comes after a weekend meeting that brought together coastal stakeholders, the Governor, and Secretary Zinke.
What’s the difference between Florida and North Carolina when it comes to their chances at exemption from seismic testing and offshore drilling?
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke makes a simple point, says New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple:
"He said that what got his attention was the fact that lawmakers, their legislature -- both Republican and Democrat and unaffiliated or independent were all in complete alignment in their opposition to offshore drilling. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here in North Carolina, and I think that note should be made loud and clear. He also said that chambers of commerce and every individual that’s approached him from Florida has been in opposition of that."
Zapple heard directly from Zinke on Saturday – after being invited by the Governor along with seven other coastal stakeholders, Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan, and Attorney General Josh Stein.
Other invitees included the Mayor of Atlantic Beach, the President of the Carteret County Chamber of Commerce, the Chair of the Coastal Resources Commission, and Chair of Dare County’s Board of Commissioners – among others.
While the Governor and Attorney General say they’re willing to go through the process laid out by Zinke, if the federal government decides to move forward with oil and natural gas exploration off North Carolina’s coast, Zapple says their message remains the same:
"If this did not work out, if we did not receive an exemption, the State of North Carolina was serious about filing suit with the federal government to force the exemption."
Zapple says Zinke did sound receptive to scheduling additional hearings and extending the comment period, but there is no word yet on when – or whether -- that will happen.
New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple is also a member of WHQR’s Governing Board, Friends of Public Radio.