Rhode Island protesters decry federal offshore drilling plan


Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Opponents of the Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore drilling crashed a hearing on the issue in Rhode Island on Wednesday, saying the plan is bad for the environment.

They gathered at a Providence hotel where an open house was held, one of nearly two dozen events organized by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management nationwide.

The public was not supposed to address the assembled attendees, as at a traditional public hearing. They were to meet one-on-one with bureau officials and submit written comments on laptops.

Climate Action RI said such a critical issue “demands a proper public hearing” and the public’s voice should be heard out loud.

BOEM officials accommodated the gathered protesters and let them speak uninterrupted in the center of their meeting room. BOEM said this was a first.

The activists stood on a small step stool, at times chanting and singing. “Keep it in the ground” was a common refrain.

Tim DeChristopher, co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, said, “We don’t want offshore drilling. We don’t need offshore drilling and we will not, under any circumstances, allow offshore drilling.” Protesters repeated what he said, applauding.

Democratic Rep. Aaron Regunberg said he was there to tell BOEM, “We don’t need any information.”

“If you’ve come to Rhode Island to talk about offshore drilling, you have come to the wrong state,” he said. The group repeated that too, cheering.

Climate Action RI, which works to fight climate change, organized elected officials and activists to go into the meeting. They spoke for about an hour and a half of the four-hour meeting.

Bill Brown, chief environmental officer for BOEM, said the protesters could have been more effective if they had spoken one-on-one with bureau staff, to give information directly to the people who are assessing the environmental impacts of the plan.

“Their message really isn’t to us. It’s more of an internal conversation,” he said. “They’re missing the opportunity to ask questions, hear from us and come back at the people writing it. The staff here care about the environment.”

The open house format was designed so attendees could speak with bureau officials for hours if they wanted to, rather than be limited to a minute or two, Brown added. He addressed the protesters at the end of the meeting, answering questions and telling them, “I am glad you are here. I do wish you’ve given us more time to interact.”

The administration has proposed a vast expansion of offshore drilling that would open 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to development by private companies. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the plan Jan. 4, saying responsible development of offshore energy resources would boost jobs and economic security while providing billions of dollars to fund conservation along U.S. coastlines.

Before the Providence meeting, activists and lawmakers gathered at the Statehouse. Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo told them Rhode Island is not going to stand for offshore drilling, noting that thousands of fishermen depend on an unpolluted coastline. About 100 protesters marched from the Statehouse to the BOEM meeting. One held a sign reading “oil and water don’t mix.”