A full quarter of the oysters harvested in the U.S. come from Washington. Shellfish account for 20 percent of Pacific County’s economy. Why would we risk that to drill for oil and gas off the coast?
The Trump administration recently released plans to open up 90 percent of U.S. federal waters to oil and gas drilling — and to the risk of a major oil spill. The proposed program, which would run through the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, would end three decades of bipartisan coastal protection. It would also threaten Washington’s fishing, tourism and recreation economy, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars.
As coastal business owners, we find this prospect terrifying. Like so many others, we have staked our fortune on the natural wealth of the ocean. The Ballo family has been involved in oyster farming, salmon fishing and crab fishing for five generations, and wants their kids and grandkids to be able to make a living harvesting bivalves.
I was drawn, along with my partners, to Westport’s famous surf and, after years of camping, opened a small hotel that has become a home away from home for weekend coastal visitors, as well as a hub for music and community events. People come from around the world to enjoy world-class recreation on our beaches, and Washingtonians are banding together to say, unequivocally: No oil and gas drilling.
Our coastal waters already are an economic engine, and a sustainable one at that. We shouldn’t risk it on a short-term gamble that erodes progress made in the shift away from fossil fuels.
According to the National Ocean Economics Program, tourism, recreation and fishing along Washington’s coast generate $5.2 billion per year, and employ nearly 84,000 people — in hotels, restaurants, gas stations, tackle shops, charter boats, and other local businesses. Washington residents took an estimated 4.1 million trips to the coast in 2014.
And don’t forget, seafood is big business for coastal economies. A full quarter of the oysters harvested in the U.S. come from Washington. Shellfish account for 20 percent of Pacific County’s economy. Dungeness crab, salmon and other important sea creatures are also at stake.
We remember all too well the economic and environmental impacts of the 1988 Nestucca oil spill at the mouth of Grays Harbor. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data from 2015 states that it responds to 100 oil spills in U.S. waters every year. In December, however, the Trump administration announced it will roll back federal safety rules created following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Imagine the consequences of opening up 90 percent of our coast to drilling under these circumstances. It would be only a matter of time before we experienced another catastrophic disaster.
We can’t afford to let that happen.
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The alarm bells are ringing loudly on our coast. Countless conversations in our communities have confirmed that just about everyone is profoundly opposed to this ill-thought out idea: from members of our congressional delegation to our statewide elected leaders, coastal businesses, fishermen, tribes, and others whose livelihoods and way of life depend on clean beaches and thriving fisheries. Seven coastal towns have passed resolutions against the plan, including Ocean Shores, Westport, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Montesano, Long Beach and Ilwaco.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management held its only public meeting in Washington earlier this month to answer questions and accept written comments. We traveled to Olympia to share our opposition to this risky proposal.
Washington is actively investing in clean and renewable energy development. Offshore oil drilling would be a major setback in our transition to a clean energy economy, a transition that is accelerating despite the efforts of the current White House.
We appreciate all the efforts of Washington’s leaders to confront this threat to our coastal communities. We hope the Bureau will heed the overwhelming response to this misguided proposal. To do otherwise would undermine state and local control over our environment and our economy. This is elemental for those of us that make the coast home. We refuse to be the generation that allowed this irresponsible proposal to destroy our way of life. Together we can preserve the wild beauty and natural wealth of the Washington coast.