Something truly remarkable is happening in the American South. The states that I’m talking about are so-called “red states” — some of the most politically conservative geography in these United States. They are places with Republican governors and mostly Republican state legislatures, where environmental regulations are typically scorned and policy on oil exploration has been typically defined by the phrase, “Drill, baby, drill.”
Indeed, just a few short years ago, the political leadership in states such as Virginia and South Carolina was solidly behind plans to allow offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocrean for the first time. Indeed, some officials had dollar signs in their eyes over the oil-and-gas royalties they hoped to tap. But in a very short time, everything has changed, and a growing number of Southerners are beginning to realize the threat that offshore drilling poses to their economy and their environment:
VIRGINIA BEACH — When then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) first pushed the idea in 2010, it was easy to find Virginians who favored oil and gas drilling along the Virginia coast, even in this tourism-dependent city of 450,000. The Virginia Beach City Council voted 8 to 3 that year in support of the giant offshore rigs, betting, along with the mayor, that “there’s going to be money made.”
But that was before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and before oil prices began their historic slide. At its December meeting two weeks ago, the same city council abruptly reversed course, voting to rescind its 2010 resolution after some of the city’s biggest business alliances campaigned against drilling.
“Why should we put ourselves at risk?” Laura Wood Habr, vice president of the city’s restaurant association, said in an interview after the vote. The Virginia Beach council’s reversal is the latest blow to a plan that could bring offshore drilling to the Southeast Atlantic coast as early as 2017.
In recent months, at least 93 coastal communities — from small beach towns on the Delmarva Peninsula to the wealthy and politically powerful cities of Charleston and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina and Savannah, Ga. — have joined a revolt against a pro-drilling movement that once seemed unstoppable in the Republican-dominated South.
The article in the Washington Post notes that in South Carolina — arguably the most conservative, pro-business state in the nation, a group of some 400 businesses and GOP leaders recently held a news conference to denounce the Atlantic drilling plan. And the opposition is even more virulent in and around Virginia Beach, where business leaders realize that a major spill could cripple the tourism industry that is the cornerstone of the local economy.
Indeed, I think what’s happening in these South Atlantic states is very much a credit to what our group of environmental activists in Louisiana was able to accomplish in the wake of BP’s Deepwater Horizon. For the last five years, many of us have pushed back against efforts by both the British oil giant and the federal government to whitewash the worst environmental impacts — pollution that continues to wash onto beaches and foul critical marshlands.
In other words, I think folks from Virginia and South Carolina are start to realize that no short-term economic gains are worth the risk of such a catastrophe. In recent weeks, presidential candidate and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has urged caution on approving any offshore drilling scheme for the Atlantic — but it’s not clear how the Obama administration will decide, perhaps as early as next spring. Over the second half of 2015, the government has taken wise steps to block the Keystone XL pipeline and offshore drilling in the Arctic. Killing this risky idea would be another giant step in the right direction for the U.S. environment.
Read more from the Washington Post about Southern opposition to offshore drilling: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/as-decision-nears-opposition-builds-to-offshore-drilling-along-atlantic-coast/2015/12/20/d438c856-a5c4-11e5-b53d-972e2751f433_story.html
Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice
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