Virginia Lawmakers Vote to Block Offshore Drilling

Illustration; An offshore drilling rig - Image by: Mike Mareen / Adobe Stock
Illustration; An offshore drilling rig - Image by: Mike Mareen / Adobe Stock

Virginia Democratic-led lawmakers on Tuesday passed a bill to block future oil and gas development off the state's coastline, reflecting opposition to the Republican Trump administration's efforts to open Atlantic waters to fossil fuel exploration. 

Democrats control both chambers of Virginia's state legislature, and the governor is also a Democrat. 

The bill passed by the state House of Delegates prohibits infrastructure such as pipelines or gathering systems in state waters that could be used to transport oil and gas drilled in federal waters to Virginia's shores. 

It also repeals a state policy to support U.S. efforts to explore for offshore oil and gas. A companion bill was approved in the state's Senate last week, and the legislation is expected to be sent to Governor Ralph Northam shortly. 

A representative for Northam said he supports the bill. "Governor Northam has long been opposed to offshore drilling off Virginia's coast," spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in an email. California has also banned new oil and gas infrastructure in state waters since President Donald Trump's administration proposed in 2018 to open up the Atlantic, Pacific and new parts of the Arctic oceans to offshore drilling. 

The offshore drilling plan was part of a broader effort by the administration to maximize domestic energy production, but has drawn vehement opposition from nearly every coastal state over concerns related to potential oil spills that could spoil beaches and hurt their lucrative tourism industries. 

The proposal has since been put on hold due to a court ruling, though the administration is still processing permit requests for seismic testing in the Atlantic. The text of the Virginia bill and the outcome of the vote were posted on a state legislative website. 

Democrats have made huge political gains in Virginia in recent years, buoyed by a backlash against Trump, particularly in suburban areas. 

(Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Valdmanis, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

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