Public excluded, industry welcomed at North Carolina meeting about offshore drilling

Public excluded, industry welcomed at North Carolina meeting about offshore drilling

Public excluded, industry welcomed at North Carolina meeting about offshore drilling

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For those who remember the closed-door secrecy and fossil fuel bias of the Bush-Cheney Energy Task Force, then last Thursday, November 6, was like déjà vu. An invite-only meeting, closed to the public, environmental groups, and the press, was held at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, North Carolina, to discuss energy exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf off the mid-Atlantic coast. The meeting was organized by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and included North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory, State Representative Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), and officials from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and several other federal agencies. Also in attendance were representatives from the Center for Offshore Safety, Institute for Energy Research, Consumer Energy Alliance, and the Chamber of Commerce, all of which have ties to the oil and gas industry.

In response to a letter from environmental groups requesting an audience at the meeting, the North Carolina Department of Energy and Natural Resources stated that the meeting was “strictly informational and educational,” and limited to federal and state agencies and elected officials in order to “avoid any potential for real or perceived conflicts of interest.”  

The bias towards offshore energy development was shamefully obvious. The listed members of the Center for Offshore Safety, for example, include some of the biggest names in offshore drilling: Halliburton, Chevron, Hess, Anadarko, and Transocean. In addition, the non-profit Institute for Energy Research grew out of an advocacy group co-founded by Koch Industries. Reporters were only allowed to attend the end of the meeting to hear closing remarks by Governor McCrory, an outspoken supporter of oil and gas exploration off the North Carolina coast. According to Representative Harrison, the meeting was all pro and no con.

This is alarmingly familiar. The Bush-Cheney Energy Task Force held a number of secret meetings under the guise of responsible energy development shielded from outside influence. In reality, the Energy Task Force was an open line of communication from the fossil fuel energy industry to the White House, with environmental groups given one conciliatory meeting, which Vice President Cheney didn’t even bother to attend. These meetings resulted in the National Energy Policy, which opened new areas for offshore drilling and placed BP under a categorical exclusion for environmental reviews of offshore drilling that made the Deep Water Horizon oil spill an “accident waiting to happen.”

Holding a meeting in a public venue to discuss the potential development of public resources in a room that is closed to the public but open to industry is disingenuous and undemocratic. As stated by the North Carolina Sierra Club, “We can’t recall any other Administration convening a meeting of public officials to talk about a public process for developing public resources, held in a public location that is closed to the public.”

Meetings about energy development that include groups with ties to the oil and gas industry while excluding the public run counter to President Obama’s promise to maintain a transparent government and Secretary Jewell’s repeated calls for stakeholder input regarding offshore energy development.  The Obama administration should stay true to its promise of accountability by refusing to participate in closed meetings about energy development of public resources. Instead, the administration must ensure that all avenues for public participation remain open and shift the focus away from extraction to keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Image: North Carolina Outer Banks 

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