WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) today introduced 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.
“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 Sen. 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.”
COAST 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. It is cosponsored by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Angus King (I-Maine), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
"We know that an oil spill in the Atlantic Ocean would be an environmental and economic disaster—severely harming beaches, fisheries, and marine life and damaging our coastal economies, especially the thousands of small businesses that line the Jersey Shore already hurting from the coronavirus pandemic," said Sen. Booker. "We must protect our vibrant seaside communities and our vulnerable coastal ecosystems from the potentially devastating effects of a catastrophic oil spill. By banning offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic region, the COAST Anti-Drilling Act seeks to prevent an oil-related disaster in New Jersey and our neighboring states."
“This much-needed legislation would permanently protect Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Coast from the dangers posed by offshore drilling,” said Sen. Blumenthal. “The Deepwater Horizon oil spill revealed the destructive effects of prioritizing Big Oil over marine ecosystems and coastal communities. I will continue to work with my colleagues to protect our waterways everywhere from harmful drilling that threatens the livelihood of coastal tourism, treasured ecological resources, and thriving marine biodiversity. Now, Congress must pass the COAST Act to safeguard our vulnerable waters and shoreline economies.”
“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 Sen. Reed.
“By permanently banning offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, the COAST Anti-Drilling Act would protect invaluable coastlines and the local communities that rely on them,” Sen. Wyden said. “America must work to end its dependence on Big Oil in order to truly address the ever-worsening threats posed by the climate crisis. Stopping the exploitation of our nation’s treasured coasts and preventing Big Oil from causing more damage is essential in this fight.”
"Our country needs better investment in clean energy infrastructure to grow our economy—not giveaways to Big Oil that put coastal communities at risk of devastating oil spills," said Sen. Warren. "This bill takes strong action to protect our environment and local economy in Massachusetts."
“As a lifelong champion of the effort to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland's coastal bays, I will take every action to prevent drilling along our Atlantic Coast, which threatens unacceptably the State's economy and natural resources,” said Sen. Cardin, a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Oil spills do not respect state boundaries, making the risks of drilling off the Atlantic Coast far greater than the rewards.”
"Offshore drilling would threaten Rhode Islanders’ ability to enjoy our beaches and harm the Ocean State’s tourism and fishing industries,” said Sen. Whitehouse. “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."
“We never want to see Massachusetts’s economy and environment suffer what we saw in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico,” Sen. Markey said. “The COAST Act is critical so our coastline remains safe for shellfish not Shell Oil. Offshore drilling near New England’s shore would threaten Massachusetts’ fishing and tourism industry, and put at risk some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. I will continue to fight every step of the way to protect our waters off of New England from Big Oil.”
The Jersey Shore is home to over $800 billion in coastal properties and a tourism industry that generates $44 billion a year and supports almost half a million direct and indirect jobs, or nearly ten percent of the state’s entire workforce. New Jersey is also home to a vibrant commercial and saltwater recreational fishing industry reliant on the environmental health of the ocean and marine life. All of these are threatened by offshore drilling.
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.
“Coastal communities deserve a healthy ocean and oil-free beaches, and it’s time for Congress to permanently protect our coast from devastating oil spills that threaten our coastal economy,” said Oceana Campaign Director Diane Hoskins. “Oceana applauds Senator Menendez for reintroducing the Clean Ocean and Safe Tourism (COAST) Anti-Drilling Act, which would permanently protect the entire Atlantic coast from dirty and dangerous offshore drilling. More drilling means more climate pollution, which we cannot afford. Permanently protecting our coasts from offshore drilling is a crucial step toward addressing the climate crisis and protecting millions of jobs that rely on a clean coast economy. Congress must act to simultaneously combat climate change and help safeguard our clean coast economy, by permanently protecting our coasts from offshore oil.”
“Hundreds of Atlantic coast communities have made clear this is what they want,” said Valerie Cleland, advocate for the Nature Program at NRDC (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.”
Sen. Menendez helped lead the charge in 2015 to convince the Obama Administration to remove the Atlantic Ocean from its five-year plan for 2017-2022, and for the president Obama to use his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) before leaving office to ban oil and gas exploration in areas of the Atlantic Ocean.
After Sen. Menendez and his colleagues from New Jersey and in the Senate vehemently opposed the Trump Administration’s attempts to reopen the five-year plan, President Biden, in January, issued an Executive Order pausing new leases for oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters.
Sens. Menendez and current Vice President Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) led the opposition to Trump Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s confirmation, due, at least in part, to his role in expanding offshore drilling that threatens their states’ coastal economies. Prior to his confirmation vote, Sens. Menendez, Feinstein and Merkley urged Bernhardt to “come clean” on whether he had intended to advance the Trump Administration’s plans to expand offshore drilling. Sens. Menendez, Booker and several Senate colleagues opposed the Trump Administration rollback of the Well Control Rule in order to ease testing requirements for critical oil rig equipment, such as the blowout preventer, which failed in the Deepwater Horizon spill.