Long Islanders Say No to Offshore Drilling

Representative Lee Zeldin and other officials mingled with constituents and colleagues before the hearing began. Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. can be seen to the right of Mr. Zeldin. Jennifer Landes

Scores of people showed up to testify at a public hearing on offshore drilling at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville on Friday, despite the weather, which was particularly harsh in the area.

The event, prompted by a proposal to promote oil and gas drilling on 98 percent of the outer continental shelf off the coast of the United States, was hosted by Representative Lee Zeldin to give state and local officials, environmentalists, and residents a chance to share their concerns with Department of Interior representatives.

Mr. Zeldin said that having worked with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, while the secretary was in Congress, he thought Mr. Zinke would be willing to reconsider Long Island’s inclusion in the plan after hearing from Long Islanders. He stressed that "there is no evidence of these resources even being located off of Long Island. That alone is reason enough to take Long Island off the table.”

Speaking for the Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, Adrienne Esposito said the residents of Long Island do not live here for the traffic, but for the water. “We consider the water our backyard, our front yard, but we would never consider it our junkyard.” Thanking Kate MacGregor, the deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals at the Department of Interior, the first of two representatives who showed up for the hearing, she nonetheless asked, “Who are you to threaten it?”

Officials such as Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and County Legislator Bridget Fleming joined their state and county colleagues in urging the department to eliminate the waters off Long Island from the proposed program and to endorse renewable energy efforts instead for the state and region. This is a bipartisan issue, Mr. Thiele said, echoing others. “Our environment is our economy."

According to material shared by Ms. Fleming in a letter addressed to Mr. Zinke, Long Island generates tourism income in excess of $5.6 billion, supporting more than 100,000 employees. “According to a 2016 study by Tourism Economics, over $700 million in state and local taxes is generated annually by Long Island tourism and the average Long Island household would have an annual tax bill increase of $745 without that revenue,” Ms. Fleming said.

Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino, who represents an UpIsland district, questioned the lack of notice for the meeting, which was announced only on Wednesday, as did others, including Ms. Fleming. “We’re left wondering if the federal government actually wants to hear what we have to say,” Ms. Pellegrino said. 

Refusing to yield after her time had expired and the moderator began striking his gavel, Ms. Pellegrino asserted that “Long Island will not stand idly by while others ruin our coastline.”

After two hours of public comment, Ms. MacGregor addressed the crowd before leaving the hearing to John Tanner, another department representative, thanking them for their boldness in their comments. Responding to the calls for coastal wind energy development made during the hearing, she said that was a shared goal of the department and something it was working on while taking into consideration the concerns with that kind of development.

The current public comment period will close on Friday, March 9. Comments can be submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at boem.gov. Ms. MacGregor said the review process is long and will “involve a multitude of comment periods with potentially more meetings when we come to the next step in the program process.” An article with more information will appear in the March 8 issue of The Star.

Kate MacGregor, the deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Department of the Interior, listened to public comment for two hours before leaving the meeting to another department representative.Jennifer Landes
Colleen Henn, who is from East Hampton, represented the Surfrider Foundation of New York City, Central Long Island, and Eastern Long Island at the hearing.Jennifer Landes