About a dozen Ocracoke Island residents spoke out against the Trump administration’s plan to expand offshore drilling at a public hearing on Tuesday.
“It is up to us, as individuals, and the state of North Carolina to do everything possible to retain this precious environment along our coast,” said Janey Jacoby, who lives in Ocracoke.
Jacoby was among many residents at the hearing who expressed concern over the possibility of an oil spill, which would destroy the island’s natural resources. “It can take only one poorly-made decision to change the lives of not only the people who live here and visit, but the fisheries, bird life, the turtles that nest along our beaches and the many migrating whales and dolphins who nest up and down our coastline,” she said.
The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality organized the public meeting in Hyde County to gather feedback from residents on the federal government’s plan to open offshore drilling sites along the state’s coast before the comment period ends on March 9.
“I’m here to have a conversation with you and the people who live along the coast, so that we can exchange ideas on how to best position ourselves to protect our economy and our natural resources,” NC DEQ Secretary Michael Regan told dozens of Ocracoke residents.
Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a draft proposal that includes plans to lease 90 percent of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf, which lies outside state jurisdictions, to oil companies. The measure proposes 47 potential lease sales – the most in the nation’s history. Three of those offshore drilling sites are in the mid-Atlantic region, which includes North Carolina. If the plan takes effect, the first lease sale near the state’s coast would happen in 2020.
Gov. Roy Cooper has threatened to sue the federal government if plans to open offshore drilling sites along the state’s coast move forward.
At the public hearing, much of the opposition centered on the link between the natural environment and the local tourism and fishing economies.
“This would not be good for our ocean, our coast, our coastal communities. It’s over a billion-dollar industry out here on the Outer Banks. That is worth protecting,” said Ann Ehringhaus, who owns Oscar’s House Bed and Breakfast in Ocracoke and has lived on the island for more than 40 years.
Statewide, commercial and recreational fishing generates almost $780 million in income and supports a nearly $2 billion sales economy, a report from North Carolina Sea Grant shows. Ocracoke Island’s fishing industry is vibrant, with more than 30 local families relying on commercial fishing for income, said Tom Pahl, Ocracoke commissioner.
“The fishing economy and tourism economy are both integrally linked with the environment and a healthy environment," Pahl said. "If that healthy environment is affected by oil spills or other kinds of impacts that damage either pieces of that economy, we’re going to be in big trouble as an island.”
Residents can submit public comments on the federal offshore drilling plan online.