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Virginia Congressman Dave Brat Pushes for Offshore Drilling

Mel Evans


Virginia Republican Dave Brat is pushing to open up Virginia’s coast to offshore oil and gas drilling.  Democrats, though, say that would be terrible for the commonwealth’s economy and they're trying to combat the effort. 


Congressman Dave Brat was one of about a dozen lawmakers standing behind President Trump when he recently signed an executive order intended to open the door for oil and gas drilling off the east coast.  


“Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless good jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent," said the President at the signing. "This action is another historic step toward future development... And I have to say that’s a real future with greater prosperity and security for all Americans, which is what we want.”


While the president’s order calls on the Interior Secretary to review a five year ban on offshore drilling put in place by President Obama, Congressman Brat wants to go further. He’s introduced a bill to reverse Obama’s executive order which protected millions of acres in the Outer Continental Shelf from oil and gas drilling. 


Brat's proposal would also bar future presidents from trying to block offshore drilling. He says it just makes sense.


“It’s just part of energy independence, number one," Brat says. "And then the job creation is in the tens of thousands and the economic impact is in the billions. So why would you say no to that?”


While environmentalists worry a spill off the coast could devastate the commonwealth’s robust tourism economy, Brat says he also wants to ensure oil and gas companies can’t mess up the shore.


‘It’s still got to live up to the highest environmental standards – it always has. But there’s been a lot of good reporting I’ve seen in the last couple days on the pipes underground – pipes offshore, I mean no one can even tell anymore.”


Trump recently lifted the Obama-era ban on seismic testing off the east coast. Northern Virginia Democrat Don Beyer has a bill to block that, because he says it’s terrible for marine life.


“You find whole populations fleeing the sound," Beyer says. "It’s the underwater equivalent of the airport noise we have in Northern Virginia. And especially if you open it up for offshore drilling it’s not just one seismic company, there could be five or six or seven at the same time, so a lot of this is just trying to preserve our marine biology.”  


But Beyer isn’t trying to hide the true intent of his bill: he says its meant to keep drilling rigs off Virginia’s coast.


“In the larger context too, if you don’t do the seismic testing it’s an obstacle to the offshore drilling. And I think we have plenty of offshore right now in the Gulf Coast and the North Sea, let’s focus on what we already have," he says. "We’re doing fine with natural gas. We’re very close to total energy independence in the United States. We don’t need to be upsetting the Atlantic coast.”


Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine says he was open to coastal drilling until the Pentagon warned lawmakers drilling rigs could hurt naval operations off the coast.


 “I was very open to this in 2007 at the start of the Obama administration, but when the Department of Defense weighed in with concerns – in Hampton Roads, defense, I mean, it’s the biggest piece of the economy,” says Kaine.


The senator points out that it's unclear how much money would come into Virginia if offshore drilling started, but he does know the state’s defense industry makes its economy churn.


“I don’t think you chase after a speculative industry and hurt the industry that is the biggest chunk of your economy, so I would have some concerns about it.”


Still Republican Congressman Brat, the one sponsoring the bill on offshore drilling, says his effort is all about jobs.


“Go talk to the 40-percent of college kids who are under employed right now and can’t find meaningful high paying work," Brat says. "We need to get this economy growing again and this is just a no brainer.” 


As the Trump administration moves ahead with its efforts to open up the east coast to drilling, Democrats say they’re ready for the fight and plan to use every tool they have to block the move.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association

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