A.G. Schneiderman Threatens Legal Action If Trump Administration Doesn't Listen To New Yorkers And Drop NY From Dangerous Offshore Drilling Plan

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

March 9, 2018

Attorney General’s Press Office / 212-416-8060
Twitter: @AGSchneiderman


Spills from Offshore Drilling Could Decimate New York’s $25 Billion Ocean Economy, and the 350,000 Jobs and $12 Billion in Wages It Supports

Schneiderman: Trump Administration’s Plan to Turn Over NY’s Coast to Big Oil Threatens Our Environment and Our Economy – and I’ll Use the Full Power of My Office to Fight Back

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today filed formal comments calling on the Trump Administration to heed New Yorkers’ demands to exclude areas offshore of New York from its plan to open almost all of the nation’s coasts to oil and gas drilling. The comments – submitted on the Department of Interior’s 2019-2024 draft proposed program for oil and gas leasing in outer continental shelf waters – said the drilling plan “would harm vital state interests, including the State’s economy and the unique ecology of our shores and ocean waters.” The Attorney General pledged that, if the Trump Administration fails to follow the law and exclude the New York waters from the program, his office “will use all appropriate legal avenues to vigorously oppose the Department’s program.” 

“The Trump Administration’s plan to turn over New York’s coast to big oil threatens our environment and our economy – and I stand ready to use the full power of my office to fight back if the administration won’t listen to New Yorkers’ opposition,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The Trump Administration must follow the law and eliminate New York’s coastal waters from its senseless and dangerous drilling plan. If the Administration refuses, I will act to ensure our state’s economy, environment, and natural resources are protected.”

The federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) requires the Secretary of the Interior to prepare and maintain an outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing program that “will best meet national energy needs.” In January, pursuant to the OCSLA, the Trump Administration – through the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management – released its proposed five-year (2019 to 2024) plan for leasing of the outer continental shelf along the country’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts for oil and gas drilling. The plan proposes to open up 98 percent of these areas to oil and gas exploration, development and production, including waters off the New York coast. 

Attorney General Schneiderman’s office points out that a little more than a year ago, the Department of Interior adopted a five-year outer continental shelf oil and gas leasing program for 2017 to 2022. That program found – upon consultation with coastal states and in consideration of ecological resources, competing outer continental shelf uses, and other factors – that national energy needs can best be met without any new oil and gas leasing in areas off New York. In today’s comments, Attorney General Schneiderman’s office states that “[w]ithout a full explanation for why, unlike the [2017-2022 program], the [Trump Administration’s proposed 2019-2024 program] includes areas of New York and adjacent coastal states for new oil and gas drilling, the inclusion of these areas in a final program would be arbitrary and capricious.” 

The office further notes the Department of the Interior long-established practice of deferring to states’ desires that oil and gas exploration not take place off their coasts. In fact, in developing the 2017-2022 and prior leasing programs, the Department deferred to the judgment of New York and other states that oil and gas exploration should not take place off their coasts, and excluded these areas. Attorney General Schneiderman’s office states in today’s comments “[w]ith the Department having established a practice of not imposing offshore drilling on states that do not want it, that approach should guide the agency’s decision making now. Absent a reasoned explanation, the Department’s change in course and disregard of state opposition in a final program would be arbitrary and capricious.” 

The comments also charge that expanding the extraction of carbon-intensive fossil fuels is fundamentally inconsistent with the urgent need to address the harms of climate change by transitioning away from those fossil fuels. New York is already experiencing adverse effects from climate change, as highlighted by an analysis performed by the Attorney General Schneiderman’s office that found – consistent with scientists’ predictions – that the frequency and intensity of damaging extreme rainfall events in state are increasing. The Attorney General’s office comments argue that the OCSLA requires that the Trump Administration fully consider, in formulating a leasing plan, whether expanded offshore oil and gas leasing would interfere with “the United States’ ability to mitigate the substantial adverse societal and environmental impacts of climate change” – something the Administration has yet to do. 

The risks of oil spills and other harms from offshore drilling pose a substantial threat to New York’s coast and ocean resources, and the jobs and economy that depend upon them. New York boasts an ocean economy – living resources, transportation, construction, minerals, ship and boat building, and tourism and recreation – that, according to the latest estimate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), employs almost 350,000 people, generates $11.8 billion in wages, and contributes $24.9 billion in gross domestic product. NOAA found that New York led the nation in the growth of ocean employment, and ranked third among all coastal states in the number of people employed in the ocean economy and fourth in ocean economy gross domestic product. Tourism and recreation accounts for 92 percent of employment in New York’s ocean economy and 82 percent of its gross domestic product. 

Attorney General Schneiderman has been pushing back against the Trump Administration’s plans to allow drilling for oil and gas in New York’s offshore waters. In February, Attorney General Schneiderman joined 12 coastal states in calling for Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to terminate the proposed drilling plan. That letter followed comments that Attorney General Schneiderman and the multi-state coalition filed opposing the Trump Administration’s proposed weakening of regulations governing safety systems for offshore oil and gas production. These regulations were updated and implemented in 2016 in response to “lessons learned” from the horrific Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill – a disaster that the spill caused $17.2 billion in natural resource damage alone.  

This matter is being handled for the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Frank, Policy Analyst Jeremy Magliaro, and Policy Advisor Peter C. Washburn, under the supervision of Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic. The Environmental Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Matthew Colangelo.