Offshore oil and gas drilling: The Vineyard fear

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With the ongoing controversy over President Trump’s remarks about immigration concerning Haiti and Africa, let’s not ignore the Trump administration’s Jan. 4 decision to allow offshore oil and gas exploration along the American coastline, including Massachusetts. Republican and Democratic governors, members of Congress, and local leaders have joined together to condemn the action.

President Obama placed 94 percent of the national outer continental shelf off-limits to exploration. The duty to open new gas and oil leases falls on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose order to jumpstart leasing could open 90 percent of those acres, most of which are in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Alaska coast. But the area includes the entire Pacific and Atlantic coasts. It could include Georges Bank, as well as the entire Eastern and Southern coasts of Martha’s Vineyard.

Some states, like Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Maine, seem amenable to the decision. Most others have challenged it in court, including those like Maryland with Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, but not Massachusetts. At least, not yet.

Gov. Charlie Baker, as of this writing, has not commented about it, but last June, he told Mr. Zinke that “the Commonwealth does not support the inclusion of areas of the North Atlantic adjacent to or affecting Massachusetts. For more than three decades, the exploration or leasing for oil and gas in the North Atlantic has not been justified, and we believe this holds true today more than ever.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott told the secretary on Jan. 9 that his state was unique in terms of tourism and coastal fragility. And now Florida seems to no longer be on the list of possible offshore locations for drilling leases. We also have to note President Trump has an interest in keeping oil spills away from the Florida shore: His exclusive resort, Mar-a-Lago, is the Florida White House. Meantime, the secretary has promised to speak to all governors to review the matter.

Editors of the Baltimore Sun suggested some ideas easily adaptable to Massachusetts and Martha’s Vineyard. First, Gov. Baker could tell Secretary Zinke that the fragility of the Massachusetts coastline and the importance of commonwealth tourism match that of Florida.

Second, Gov. Scott, as a close Trump ally, is mulling a challenge to the Senate seat now held by Democrat Bill Nelson. He must give up his position in the governor’s mansion because of term limits. President Trump would like to see another Republican in the Senate to increase the majority the party now holds there.

Gov. Baker could tell the president that he, or maybe Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, is considering a run against Senator Elizabeth Warren, even though they are both probably running for re-election in 2018, at least according to his campaign chief, Jim Conroy. All Mr. Baker needs to do is persuade Mr. Trump that there is a possibility of another Republican in the Senate, but only as long as it takes to get the exception.

Such an announcement would have no impact on Gov. Baker’s re-election bid, given that he enjoys a 70 percent approval rating. And this for a Republican governor in the bluest state in the Union.

Third, one thing that would certainly catch the president’s eye and make his heart glow is to promise to rename the Boston Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center the Trump Seaport Tower and World Trade Center. Or, alternatively, on-Island, Mink Meadows and/or Farm Neck Golf Clubs could be renamed Trump Meadows or Trump Neck. Perhaps an offer could be made to allow the Trump sons to run them.

The prospect of oil and gas drilling off the coast of Massachusetts, and especially the Vineyard, is of course no laughing matter. It is a dead serious issue. As the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation recently reminded Gov. Baker, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disastrous oil spill and 11 deaths in the Gulf of Mexico could be repeated tenfold if Mr. Zinke’s decision holds. The prospect of oil rigs lined up from Georges Bank to Aquinnah and New Bedford could present a twofold negative impact: destroy the environment with their potential pollution and upend the beauty with their unsightliness.

The result would be devastating, should that occur here.

Jack Fruchtman teaches constitutional law and politics at Maryland’s Towson University and is a seasonal Aquinnah resident.