WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) teamed up with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to introduce the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism (COAST) Anti-Drilling Act to permanently ban offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean and protect recovering coastal economies decimated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean would open up the eastern seaboard to considerable risk, and we have seen the destruction that an accident can cause.  This legislation is about more than simply protecting the environment, it’s also about protecting the tourism and fishing industries that create jobs and power the Rhode Island economy,” said Senator Reed.

“Offshore drilling would threaten Rhode Islanders’ ability to enjoy our beaches and harm the Ocean State’s tourism and fishing industries,” said Senator Whitehouse, who led the introduction of similar legislation in 2018 amid the Trump administration’s unsuccessful push to drill in the Atlantic.  “We successfully fought the last administration’s proposal to open the Atlantic to drilling, and I’m glad to see to it that we never have to fight such a foolish and short-sighted proposal again.”

“As we turn the corner on the pandemic and hope for near-normal crowds and a strong summer for businesses at the Jersey Shore, the last thing we need is to open our coast up for a man-made disaster like an oil spill that threatens an already fragile economy,” said Senator Menendez.  “Our boardwalks, restaurants, small businesses, and fishing industries depend on the health and safety of our beaches and the millions of tourists and day-trippers they attract.  A massive oil spill off our coastline would be devastating to the environment and hinder the economy’s ability to fully recover from COVID-19 and natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy.  COAST draws a line in the sand and forever bans the exploration and drilling for oil and gas in the Atlantic.” 

The COAST Act prohibits the U.S. Department of Interior from issuing leases for the exploration, development, or production of oil or gas in the North, Mid-, or South Atlantic Ocean or the Straits of Florida.

A recent report by the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography and Rhode Island Sea Grant values the state’s Blue Economy at $5.2 billion and estimates that the sector supports more than 36,000 jobs.  That economic activity would be endangered in the event of an oil spill.

Areas along the Gulf Coast still haven’t fully recovered from the economic and environmental devastation of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy that far exceeded what many believed would be the worst-case scenario for an offshore oil accident.

“The COAST Act introduced by Senators Reed and Whitehouse is exactly what is needed to protect our marine life, fishing sectors and shores.  Enactment of this bill will ensure Rhode Island does not face another threat — from pollution and despoilment associated with offshore drilling and mining — as we work together with urgency to reduce use of fossil fuels and mitigate impacts of sea level rise and other threats associated with climate change,” said RI Department of Environmental Management Director Janet Coit.

“In Rhode Island we know first-hand the severe environmental damage that can result from oil spills.  Save the Bay is gravely concerned about the pollution risks associated with offshore drilling and the global impact of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Save the Bay Executive Director Jonathan Stone.  “We support a prohibition on offshore drilling in federal waters along the east coast to protect fisheries and avoid the risks of pollution, pollution that could threaten our coastal communities and marine resources.  We thank Senators Reed, Whitehouse and Menendez for their leadership on this issue.”

The bill is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Angus King (I-ME), Edward Markey (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

“Hundreds of Atlantic coast communities have made clear this is what they want,” said Valerie Cleland, advocate for the Nature Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.  “Permanently banning Atlantic drilling is essential to meet our climate goals, protect the coastal economy, and safeguard the health of our oceans and marine life for generations to come.”