The Trump administration said Tuesday it would not push for oil and gas drilling off the Northwest coast.
Local protesters and politicians have been speaking out against the proposed drilling.
At a Senate hearing on his department’s proposed $11.7 billion budget, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell that the administration has gotten the message.
“The state of Washington is deeply, passionately opposed to oil and gas drilling off their coast,” he said.
Zinke said he and President Trump were committed to having the plan reflect public input.
“Our proposal will have the interests of Washington [state] reflected in that plan,” Zinke said.
Zinke said there appears to be little at stake as far as fossil fuel reserves.
“Off the coast of Oregon, Washington, most of California, there are no known resources of any weight,” Zinke said, referring to offshore oil and gas.
But, when questioned by Sen. Cantwell, he would not rule out seismic testing to find oil or other resources.
Environmentalists are concerned about the impact of the loud, repeated underwater blasts used to map minerals beneath the sea floor.
“I’m pretty confident that we have oil and gas reserves onshore to meet our country’s needs,” Zinke said. But, he said, “we should know what our reserves are as a country, and seismic using best science, I think, is appropriate.”
Zinke has a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Oregon.
According to the Interior Department, there has been no oil drilling off the Oregon or Washington coasts since 1964, when 12 exploratory wells were drilled, with no discoveries of oil in commercial quantities.
The Interior proposal, released in January, lists almost the entire Washington and Oregon coastline as critical habitat for green sturgeon and leatherback sea turtles, with critical habitat for other rare species scattered along the coasts.
Zinke appeared before the Senate energy committee to present the Trump administration’s budget for overseeing most of the nation’s federal lands and offshore minerals. Cantwell said the budget abandoned any pretense of balancing conservation and industry on federal lands.
"The budget guts key conservation programs and favors energy development at any cost," Cantwell said.
Cantwell and Zinke also exchanged strong words over his travel spending. He's being investigated for using taxpayer dollars to fly to political events, often on expensive, private planes. Zinke said he resented Cantwell's insults and innuendo.