An estimated 300 people attended a public meeting in Providence Wednesday on the Trump administration’s plan to drill for oil and gas off the East Coast.
Right now, the vast majority of federally-controlled coastal waters are off limits. However, President Donald Trump is proposing to open more than 90 percent of those waters to oil and gas exploration and drilling.
At the public meeting, anaylsts from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management provided information about how the program works, its possible environmental impacts, and how the agency responds to oil spills. They also collected written comments from the public.
Tara Franey, graduate student at the University of Rhode Island who attended the meeting, said she’s against offshore drilling because she thinks it would be bad for the North Atlantic Ocean.
"Rhode Island really relies on its natural resources, on the coast and the people here rely upon them, and (the ocean is) part of our culture and part of our history and who we are as people. It’s the (state's) identity and this really threatens that," Franey said.
Outside the meeting, nearly 100 people protested Trump's proposal. Chanting, "No Drill, No Spills," they inspired honks from passing motorists and held signs that read "#NoOffshoreDrilling" and "SOS Save Our Sea."
Protester Barbara Wilk said she came out to support the fight against offshore oil and gas drilling.
"We don't need to drill anywhere," Wilk said. "We've got alternatives. We've got solar, we've got wind, we can do it, we can make it work and make this planet a better place to live for everybody, for the generations to come."
Environmentalists Interrupt Public Meeting To Voice Concerns
Climate Action Rhode Island, an environmental advocacy group, organized a "People's Hearing" during the bureau's public meeting to voice their concerns and opposition to the Trump administration’s plan to open up oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean.
Justin Boyan, co-founder of Climate Action Rhode Island, said the hearing was necessary because there was no other opportunity for public testimony.
Boyan said when important issues are being being debated, people need a chance to hear from their peers.
"In a democracy, (learning from each other) is civic discourse," Boyan said. "We need to hear what our fellow citizens think; we need to hear what scientists think; we need to know our elected officials are going to stand up for us."
Speakers at the hearing included state representatives and Rhode Island residents. They stood on a small stool in the middle of the bureau's public information session and had supporters repeat after them to "magnify their voice."
Rhode Islanders form their own “people’s hearing” due to the lack of a public tesitmony element at @BOEM_DOI public meeting pic.twitter.com/F8Ddq7nNSn— Avory Brookins (@avory_brookins) February 28, 2018
"Our climate crisis is at such an advanced point that we can't be developing new fossil fuel resources, especially in one of the wealthiest countries in the world that has the largest historic responsibility for causing climate change," Tim DeChristopher, speaker and co-founder of the Climate Disobedience Center, said.
Bill Brown, chief environmental officer for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the agency isn't against public discourse, but they felt their format, which included booths with agency analysts, posters, handouts, and laptops available for typing comments, was more effective.
"There's more opportunity to talk to the officials that are actually writing the documents and interact with them and ask questions this way," Brown said.
Still, environmentalists claim the agency eliminated public testimony from their meeting on purpose because no Rhode Islander present at the meeting would speak in support of offshore drilling.