U.S. House makes moves to prevent seismic testing, offshore drilling

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The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved fiscal year 2020 budgets for the Department of Interior and Department of Commerce that would stop seismic testing and offshore drilling off the east coast.

Two of the amendments aimed at halting exploration and drilling were offered by Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-SC). The first was approved by a voice vote and would block the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) from issuing Incidental Harassment Authorizations (IHAs) for the Atlantic Ocean during fiscal year 2020.  IHAs are required before the final seismic permits can be approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

The IHAs have already been approved and BOEM could issue the final permits to begin seismic testing at any time. However, a lawsuit brought by the S.C. Small Business Chamber, 16 coastal cities including Beaufort, and a number of conservation organizations, as well as South Carolina’s Attorney General, is challenging the legality of the IHAs. 

Should that lawsuit be successful and Rep. Cunningham’s amendment becomes law, no IHAs could be approved until a new fiscal year 2021 budget is approved.

Cunningham’s other approved amendment was to the Department of Interior-Environment budget and would prevent BOEM from issuing permits for seismic exploration in the Atlantic during fiscal year 2020. Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) also voted for this amendment.

Three other amendments to the Dept. of Interior-Environment budget were also approved.  These amendments collectively would ban offshore oil drilling in the Atlantic, along the Florida coastline and in the Pacific during fiscal year 2020.

The next step for the budgets is Senate approval.

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