The majority of environmentalists, East Coast state representatives and the public told Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at a meeting Monday that they supported renewable energy development — particularly wind development — off their coastline, but opposed opening it up to oil and natural gas drilling. One of the few advocates of expanded oil and gas development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) was former Congressman John Peterson (R-PA).

“I think you [Salazar] and the administration should use your wisdom and [the] brains God’s given you [to determine where to drill in the OCS]. We should do seismic. We should know what we have. We should go after what’s easiest to get to. We know that the Pacific [resources] would be quicker [to develop than Atlantic resources] because we have infrastructure there,” he said during a public meeting in Atlantic City, NJ — the site of the first of four public meetings being held by the department on OCS energy development.

But Peterson urged Salazar not to write off the East Coast. “There’s some tremendous [natural gas] reserves…from New York south that we could produce,” he noted. “Natural gas is the bridge to renewables.”

He criticized Salazar for his actions against oil and gas in recent months. “I have been disappointed. I think you’re a good person, but you did remove the Roan Plateau [from leasing]. You did lock up the [development of] shale oil in the West. You did pull back Utah leases that were already leased…Please don’t lock up the OCS. We need energy for America,” Peterson said (see Daily GPI, Feb. 6; July 16, 2008).

“I’m for all the wind [development] we’re talking about today. I’m for all the solar…But we have to remember wind and solar are intermittent,” he said. “I hope we can grow those in time, but we also have to remember that if we double wind and solar in the next year, [they] will still be less than one-half percent of the energy in this country.”

Salazar in February called for four public meetings on OCS energy development when he placed a hold on the department’s review of the new five-year plan (2010-2015) on oil and gas leasing that was issued in the final days of the Bush administration (see Daily GPI, Feb. 11). Attending the Atlantic City meeting were representatives from nearly every state in the North Atlantic and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Salazar indicated that while wind energy has great potential off the East Coast, the department has not taken offshore oil and gas development off the table. “President Obama has made it loud and clear…that we move forward to develop a comprehensive energy plan and the OCS will be part of that,” he told those at the meeting. A “comprehensive energy and climate change plan is necessary for our country.”

With respect to renewable energy development, he said Interior hopes to issue a final rule within the “next month or two.”

Representatives of Virginia state Sen. Frank Wagner, a proponent of offshore drilling, and Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine offered widely divergent views on proposed drilling off the state’s coastline. Wagner’s spokesman urged Salazar to keep the state’s proposed offshore lease sale for 2011 on track, while the governor’s representative called for a postponement (see Daily GPI, March 6). The Virginia lease sale, which is included in the current five-year leasing plan (2007-2012), is the first lease sale proposed off the East Coast in nearly three decades (see Daily GPI, Nov. 13, 2008).

A representative of Oceana, an advocacy group for healthy oceans, called on the Obama administration to reinstate the moratorium on offshore drilling. She added that Oceana objected to the federal government doing this in a “piecemeal” manner. Oceana also opposed seismic and exploration activities, saying “it would be a waste of money.”

Alison Chase of the Natural Resources Defense Council warned that seismic surveys could cause additional environmental harm to the ocean. She said she supported the development of renewable energy projects in the ocean, but noted that it was important for the agency to “think through carefully” where to site projects.

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