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A Georgia vote reveals innate tension between energy, environmental policies

An adult right whale and a juvenile off Georgia's coast (Sea to Shore Alliance_NOAA permit 20556)

The fate of right whales was at risk during oil exploration because of consequences of sonic testing. Georgia’s offshore waters are a calving ground for the Georgia’s marine mammal. File/Credit: Sea to Shore Alliance/NOAA permit 20556

By David Pendered

The complete story of last week’s vote in Congress to ban offshore oil drilling isn’t evident in the final tally of votes. A “No” vote from Georgia’s representative from the coast belies his efforts to support the opposition to drilling off Georgia’s coast that’s been voiced by his constituents and Gov. Brian Kemp.

An adult right whale and a juvenile off Georgia's coast (Sea to Shore Alliance_NOAA permit 20556)

Endangered right whales, such as this adult and juvenile spotted off Georgia’s coast, are threatened by seismic testing and other steps involved in offshore oil exploration and extraction, according to NOAA. File/Credit: Sea to Shore Alliance/NOAA permit 20556

The situation underscores the delicate balance involved in the politics and policies of energy and environment. The federal law that was enacted in 1953 itself names the challenge:

  • “Management of the outer Continental Shelf shall be conducted in a manner which considers economic, social, and environmental values of the renewable and nonrenewable resources contained in the outer Continental Shelf, and the potential impact of oil and gas exploration on other resource values of the outer Continental Shelf and the marine, coastal, and human environments.”

The congressional vote on Sept. 12 energized the discussion over President Trump’s plan to open almost the entire U.S. offshore continental shelf to oil extraction, as has the weekend attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil producing infrastructure.

Georgia’s governor summed up one viewpoint of the domestic side when he affirmed in March that he, “remains supportive of offshore drilling, but not off the coast of Georgia.” Last week, Congress voted the opposite, banning in a largely party-line vote all leasing for energy purposes in the nation’s waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The measure is non-binding.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Savannah) has been singled out in some media accounts for his “No” vote on the House resolution. The vote appeared to fly in the face of opposition voiced by the governor and by city councils up and down the coast that Carter represents, including Pooler, where Carter served as mayor from 1996 to 2004.

These accounts don’t mention three amendments Carter submitted – any of which could have provided an avenue to protect Georgia’s offshore continental shelf from President Trump’s oil extraction policy.

Buddy Carter

Paulita Bennett-Martin cited Carter’s amendments in a conversation about the passage of the House resolution. She’s been mobilizing coastal communities on the oil issue on behalf of Oceana, an environmental group, and later observed in a statement:

  • “While Georgia’s first district may feel let down by Rep. Carter’s choice to vote against these bills to protect our coast, it is also important to note, he acknowledged our communities voices by entering several amendments to protect Georgia from offshore drilling.”

Bennett-Martin didn’t give Carter a complete pass. She went on to observe of Carter’s proposed amendment package:

  • “This is a good step; but we need him to use the power he has to vote in Congress, and never let offshore drilling come close to Georgia. He loves our Georgia coast, it’s his home, but now he needs to vote like it.”

Carter filed three amendments. All three were blocked in the House Rules Committee, which his office said meant they weren’t eligible for discussion in the House debate of House Resolution 1941.

Here are highlights of each proposed amendment, as characterized by Carter’s office:

  • Prevented offshore energy in the federal waters off the coast of Georgia unless approved by the Georgia General Assembly;
  • Required state approval of any proposed offshore oil and gas leasing adjacent to the state’s waters in all of the Atlantic and Pacific planning areas. This applies to all states and is not only limited to Georgia’
  • Required the Secretary of the Interior to consult with the Secretary of Defense to exclude any areas from proposed offshore energy plans in which sensitive underwater activity relating to national defense takes place.”
Kings Bay, USS Rhode Island ballistic missile sub

The USS Rhode Island returned to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in May following a test launch of a ballistic missile. Credit: U.S. Navy via YouTube

The third item addresses Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay. The base is home to five ballistic-missile submarines, each capable of carrying and launching up to 20 ballistic-missiles with multiple warheads, according to a caption on a YouTube video the Navy posted in May of the USS Rhode Island’s return to base following a test launch.

In his remarks from the well of the House last week, Carter said he sent a letter in April to the Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt citing his opposition to energy exploration off Georgia’s coast. Carter noted that his letter followed a vote in the Georgia House in favor of a resolution that voiced, “opposition to oil exploration and drilling activities, including seismic testing, off of the Georgia coast.”

Carter’s remarks to the House include this comment:

  • “When I was elected to serve the people of the First District of Georgia, I knew that I would be representing the will of my constituents up here. That’s why I have been firm in my stance that Georgia be removed from consideration due to concerns from the State Legislature.
  • “But while my request to remove Georgia from consideration under this plan stands, I firmly believe it would be unwise and counterproductive to move forward with this blanket ban on U.S. federal waters.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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