Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor plans Earth Day rally

Group fighting drilling in coastal waters will gather at Tappen Beach

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In observance of Earth Day on April 22, the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor will hold a rally at Tappen Beach in Sea Cliff to denounce a federal proposal that would open ocean waters to energy companies in search of fossil fuel reserves.

In January 2018, the Trump administration said it would allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all U.S. coastal waters, “giving energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard,” The New York Times reported.

“The whole Atlantic coastline, from Cape Cod to Cape Canaveral, is being targeted,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove. “The natural beauty of the environment makes our lives great, and we have to be very careful to protect it.”

The proposal by the U.S. Department of the Interior would open more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf — the submerged land three miles off a state’s coastline — for oil exploration and drilling. A federal judge ruled in March, however, that the president’s executive order to permit such activity was unlawful.

In rebuke of the proposal, the New York State Legislature passed a measure in February barring any offshore drilling off the state’s coastline, including seismic blasting and pipeline permits or leases that would support the development of oil and gas supplies.

According to State Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, the bill only protects waters within the state’s jurisdiction. Beyond the three-mile limit, federal law prevails. The goal now, Gaughran said, is to rally support for a federal ban to stop these practices altogether.

“If you ever had a catastrophic event like [an oil spill], it would totally change the ecosystem and have a dramatic effect on fish and wildlife,” he said. “The state law discourages [oil and gas drilling] — the federal ban is where more of the teeth is.”

Kay Bromberg, vice president of the Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, said that the ecological threats associated with seismic blasting, in particular, caught the group’s attention. The process involves seismic air guns that shoot loud blasts of compressed air through the water and miles into the seabed, which are used to find oil and gas reserves deep beneath the ocean floor.

In January, ecoRI News reported that blasts from the air guns disrupt many aquatic ecosystems and harm sea mammals such as North Atlantic right whales and dolphins, and reptiles such as sea turtles. During surveys, ships fire sonic blasts underwater for hours or days at a time. The booms are nearly 100,000 times the intensity of a jet engine, the report stated, and the sound, Bromberg said, is as loud as dynamite.

“Marine life depend on sounds in the water for vital processes such as finding mates and food, or warding off danger,” Bromberg said. “The seismic blasting is so loud, and occurs every 10 seconds for days and weeks. Their life cycles [become] disrupted.”

Suozzi will join the coalition’s rally on Monday. As a member of the congressional Climate Solutions Caucus, he said that he and some Republican colleagues recognize that fossil fuel industry practices could contribute to climate change and rising sea levels.

“The executive branch is trying to undo all these regulations,” he said, noting a recent effort by the administration to repeal the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, “but we need to stop the ‘drill, baby, drill’ mindset. America is the [third]-largest oil producer in the world, and we shouldn’t mess with one of our greatest assets [the environment] to go even further.”

While Suozzi said it would be hard to pass a federal ban on offshore drilling in the Senate, shining a light on the issue is a vital part of the strategy.

Bromberg agreed. “We have to now focus on the federal level, and show public support for keeping the ban on seismic blasting and drilling in place,” she said. “That’s what this rally is about.”

The Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor’s Earth Day rally will take place Monday, at 11 a.m., at Tappen Beach, on Shore Road in Sea Cliff.

Anthony Rifilato contributed to this story.