Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, left, speaks to the media about the state’s opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore drilling, as Gov. Jay Inslee looks on, Monday in Olympia. (Rachel La Corte/The Associated Press)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, left, speaks to the media about the state’s opposition to the Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore drilling, as Gov. Jay Inslee looks on, Monday in Olympia. (Rachel La Corte/The Associated Press)

Washington AG threatens suit over offshore drilling plans

By Rachel La Corte

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has said he is prepared to sue if Washington is not removed from offshore drilling plans put forth by the Trump administration.

Ferguson sent a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Monday, the same day the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had scheduled, and then postponed, a public meeting in Tacoma about the offshore drilling proposal.

Zinke announced plans last month to greatly expand offshore oil drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic and Pacific oceans, including multiple areas where drilling is now blocked. The plan was immediately met with bipartisan opposition on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

In the letter, Ferguson cited an exemption that was recently granted to Florida “sparing that state from the risks and burdens of drilling and exploration off its shores.”

“Every reason identified by the Secretary in announcing his decision also applies to Washington,” Ferguson wrote. “Were the Department to grant one state an exemption without an identified process and established criteria, it would contravene the regulatory framework and processes that states rely on for fair and lawful treatment.”

Gov. Jay Inslee has already asked Zinke to remove Washington, along with the entire Pacific coastline, from that list. At a press conference Monday, Inslee was joined by Ferguson and other opponents to the plan, including representatives from the Makah and Quinault tribes.

Inslee acknowledged that there’s likely not much oil off the coast “and nobody is really interested in it.”

But he said that the Trump administration has a “desire to feed their base with stuff that’s never going to happen, and I believe this is one of those cases.”

“The Makah Tribe works to ensure the sustainability of tribal resources in perpetuity to maintain our cultural identity,” Makah Tribe Office of Marine Affairs Manager Chad Bowechop said in a press release Monday.

“Since the sustainability of these resources is wholly dependent on a healthy ecosystem, the Makah have a sovereign interest and authority to address any human activity or environmental phenomena that may directly or indirectly affect the Pacific Northwest ecosystems.”

“The Quinault Indian Nation vehemently opposes offshore drilling off the Washington coast,” Quinault Indian Nation Business Councilmember Gina James said in the press release.

“The QIN signatories of the Treaty of Olympia were guaranteed the right to ‘take fish’ at all ‘usual and accustomed grounds and stations.’ The impact from a potential oil spill infringes on this right and will not only harm the Quinault and local economies, but the beautiful coastal environments, the aquatic sea life and our ability to harvest our traditional foods.”

One of the concerns cited by Ferguson in his letter is that oil and gas drilling “would present further risks due to the area’s geological activity.”

“The offshore area, known as the Cascadia Subduction Zone, is geologically active and poses the highest risk for massive earthquakes and tsunamis in the nation,” he wrote.

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz said that any oil exploration off of the coast will endanger the state’s aquatic resources.

“Washington state did not ask for offshore drilling and we do not want offshore drilling in our state,” she said. “This is a situation that is bigger than politics. Our public lands and waters are not bargaining chips.”

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