SALEM — The Trump administration’s plan to drill for oil and gas off the coast of the United States drew protests Tuesday in Congress and on the streets.
In Oregon, more than 100 protesters gathered outside the state capitol in Salem and planned to go to a hotel where the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was holding a public meeting, one of a series in coastal states.
The protesters heard speakers on the steps of the Capitol denouncing the intent to allow companies to drill off the coast, including Elke Littleleaf, a member of the Warm Springs Indian tribe.
“We have to step up and let these people know we want to keep our coastline clean and pure as it should be,” Littleleaf said.
Some of the protesters in Salem wore black T-shirts that said “drilling is killing.”
Security guards were posted outside the large room outside the Salem hotel where the federal agency held its public hearing.
A sign at the door asked attendees to leave placards and masks outside. Inside, people milled around, looking at presentations on easels that said things like “Why is Oil Important?” Agency staffers stood by ready to answer questions, including some from protesters.
“The secretary of the interior has proposed consideration of areas offshore for oil and gas development,” said Bill Brown, chief environmental officer of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “The reason we’re here at this meeting is to hear what people have to say about the environment and whether some areas should be excluded.”
Asked if there have been many voices of support for the drilling plan, Brown said: “I think it’s accurate to say at this meeting that most people are opposed to oil and gas development offshore in Oregon.”
Brown said the agency would do a comprehensive review.
A demonstration scheduled for Monday in Tacoma, Washington, was postponed after the venue operator pulled out amid planned protests.
In the nation’s capital, senators from coastal states on Tuesday strongly objected to the plan, saying it endangers the environment and threatens jobs dependent on tourism, recreation and fishing.
“Oil and gas development off the coast of the Northwest does not make sense for our communities,” Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington state, said on the Senate floor. She noted the Pacific Northwest is due for a big earthquake at any time, and urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to drop “this foolish idea.”
A parade of other senators then took to the podium in the Senate to denounce the plan.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, said he was working to ban drilling off his state’s coast.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., cited the launch on Tuesday of SpaceX’s big new rocket from Cape Canaveral, saying it underscores the danger of having drilling off a coast where rockets are launched.
“The boosters could fall into the ocean,” he said. “We can’t have drilling platforms down there.”
Zinke exempted Florida from the plan after its Republican governor objected.
Other senators remembered huge oil spills that have caused disastrous ecological damage.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Monday he’s prepared to sue if Washington is not removed from offshore drilling plans.
The Trump administration’s plan would open 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to development by private companies. It affects at least 22 coastal states and has drawn bipartisan opposition from most governors and support from at least six.