President Trump, from one business owner to another: Protect our coast from offshore drilling | Column

Let’s not forget what the Deepwater Horizon disaster looked like. [AP photo by Gerald Herbert (2010)]
Let’s not forget what the Deepwater Horizon disaster looked like. [AP photo by Gerald Herbert (2010)]
Published Jul. 3, 2019

Recent reporting by the Wall Street Journal that President Donald Trump's plan to open nearly all of our oceans to offshore drilling has stalled is welcome news. As leaders of three business alliances — representing more than 47,000 businesses and over 500,000 fishing families — we are encouraged by the news of delay. Our businesses are part of the opposition that's swelled large and loud enough to slow the president's risky plan. Unfortunately, until we hear that our waters are off the table entirely, we cannot breathe a sigh of relief.

The threat of offshore drilling and exploration is clear: It would put us out of business. Oil spills and coastal businesses cannot coexist, which is why so many have united against the president's plan for wholesale drilling off our coasts. Our favorite local restaurants, surf shops and major beachfront hotels employ our neighbors, friends and families and make up the cultural fabric of our special coastal communities. The delayed offshore drilling proposal directly threatens more than 2.6 million coastal jobs and roughly $180 billion in GDP that is generated from fishing, tourism and recreation along the Atlantic, Pacific and Florida's Gulf coasts.

To understand the threat, look no further than the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, which claimed 11 lives and destroyed marine environments across the Gulf of Mexico. The spill caused a sharp drop in tourism throughout Gulf Coast cities as people took their vacations elsewhere. Wary of consuming oil-contaminated food, the regional seafood industry also took a hit. Real estate values dropped in Florida, even in areas like St. Petersburg that never saw oil. Black sludge lapping onto Pensacola beaches likely drove a 52 percent decrease in searches for the Panhandle city on TripAdvisor, compared to when it had been oil-free. From Louisiana to Florida, for-hire fishing trips dropped by anywhere from 33 to 98 percent in each Gulf Coast state following the spill. More than 10 million user-days of beach, fishing and boating were lost because of the disaster.

Behind those statistics are real people and real families that rely on a clean and healthy ocean to make ends meet. As it stands, Trump's dangerous offshore drilling plan will only bring losses to more families from the unavoidable spills and scarring industrialization that comes with this dirty industry. If drilling is expanded, our coastal businesses and surrounding communities will be the first to feel the negative impacts. Another catastrophic spill would be our generation's legacy to our children and grandchildren.

Claims of new jobs from the oil industry should be met with skepticism. The few jobs that could come from new offshore drilling would likely go to out-of-state or foreign workers, and even the majority of those wouldn't become a reality for 10 to 20 years after the leasing. Offshore drilling is neither dependable nor safe, but our current coastal industries are both. It's imperative that we protect the jobs and communities that thrive on a clean and healthy ocean.

Decisions being made right now on offshore drilling will have major impacts on our livelihoods far into the future. That's why plans to expand offshore drilling should be formally ended, not simply delayed. Opposition to offshore drilling bridges the political divide and we collectively represent hundreds of thousands of hard-working Americans waiting for some reassurance that our coasts will be protected.

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We believe President Trump is committed to American jobs and hope he will do the right thing to protect ours. The president and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt need to ensure the public that new areas will be off the table for future drilling. Sidelining the drilling plan is one thing, now we need it thrown out altogether. Our waters need protecting, and so do our businesses.

Tom Kies is the president of the Carteret County (N.C.) Chamber of Commerce and president of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast; Robin Miller is the president/CEO of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Florida Gulf Coast Business Coalition; and Vipe Desai is the CEO of HDX Mix and a founding member of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Pacific Coast.