State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, announced on a conference call Tuesday with reporters that she intends to file legislation at the beginning of the 2019 General Assembly session next week that would result in changes to state law discouraging the possibility of oil and gas drilling off the Georgia coast.
The call was organized by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, highlighting work by elected officials off the coasts to stop offshore drilling before it starts.
Cannon said that there are three different approaches she sees as dealing with the issue.
“The first of those is that there is still a $250,000 finder’s fee that the governor would be able to release from surplus or contingent funds for the first person, corporation or combination thereof, of finding commercial oil in the state of Georgia,” Cannon said. “We do not find that to be an appropriate use of funds these days.
“The second is the statement in the Oil and Gas Drilling Act of 2017, that we just passed in 2018, has a very political statement written into it. That political statement says that the Georgia General Assembly finds that we should continue to explore oil and gas in the state of Georgia. We believe that statement should be amended to include water as well as solar energy in the state of Georgia.”
She said the third part is the Public Service Commission is led by several people who backed Gov.-elect Brian Kemp in the last election. Kemp’s made statements saying he’s opposed to oil and gas drilling off the Georgia coast.
Because states only control the first three miles of water off the coast, state legislatures can’t stop a company from launching a drilling operation in federal waters, but they can make it more expensive.
“If Maine blocks offshore drilling along our state waters and our coast, something that’s off Georges Bank, we’re not going to have any impact on it — that’s absolutely correct,” said Maine state Rep. Mick Devin. “Having said that, if we have paired up with Massachusetts and New Hampshire, which we are doing, that’s going to cause someone, a company, a lessee, to travel all the way down to North Carolina or even further. It makes it cost prohibitive.”
Cannon’s legislation likely faces an uphill battle, though. In the last session, legislators introduced non-binding resolutions supporting coastal tourism and fisheries and opposing seismic testing and offshore drilling.
The House resolution — of which state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island, was one of the top six sponsors — advanced the furthest, which wasn’t much.
It received a 90-minute hearing in the House Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications Committee and stopped there.
At the hearing, Hogan said, “I’d just hate to see something happen to our coast that happened in Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi. And, I weighed the option of not signing the resolution, for a while, but after thinking about how much tourism meant to me and my life, I’d hate to see something happen to my area, for the coast, the salt marshes and how much it means to our community and to the state of Georgia.”
The Trump administration announced intentions to open up offshore oil and gas exploration along 90 percent of offshore territory controlled by the United States slightly more than a year ago, on Jan. 4, 2018.