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Virginian-Pilot: Virginia coastal energy: a worthy pursuit

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Washington, August 1, 2014 | comments
No one wants to see harm done to the oceans or the creatures that inhabit them. Industry has made great advancements in prevention and containment; and we share a firm resolve to leave our children with clean air, clean water and clean soil.
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By Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Randy Forbes, Rob Wittman and Scott Rigell

We appreciate the opportunity to provide a more optimistic case for coastal energy exploration than was made in The Pilot's July 23 editorial.

The benefits of advancing energy production are significant: It would diversify Hampton Roads' economy, provide revenue for our schools and roads, and lessen our dependence on foreign energy. And we are convinced it can be done in a manner that meets our shared obligation to protect our waters and shoreline.

We share The Pilot's view that Virginia deserves a fair revenue share from energy exploration in federal waters off its territory, and about the importance of a more expansive coastline definition accounting for Virginia's unique coastline.

Bipartisan legislation introduced in both chambers would provide for a 37.5 percent state revenue share for Atlantic energy proceeds, the same percentage as currently enjoyed by states on the Gulf of Mexico.

A version of this legislation has already passed the House of Representatives, and the Senate version provides for an additional share to go toward conservation measures, transportation improvements and clean-energy research and development.

The Interior Department's approval to begin conducting what are basically ultrasounds of the Atlantic Coast's ocean floor is indeed a positive, though preliminary, step toward advancing coastal energy. These ultrasounds, known as seismic testing, will help us get a better estimate of the natural resources that lie beneath the ocean floor.

Our current data on the energy resources under the Atlantic's floor was gathered more than 30 years ago. New testing can provide us with a more accurate picture. Further science, environmental review and public input will determine whether we ultimately allow production.

Commercial fishing and seismic surveying in the Gulf of Mexico have successfully coexisted for decades. The models used in the federal report that The Pilot referenced do not account for mandated mitigation requirements used while conducting seismic surveys, including slowly increasing sound to allow animals to move away and shutting down operations when trained observers see marine animals near seismic vessels.

No one wants to see harm done to the oceans or the creatures that inhabit them. Industry has made great advancements in prevention and containment; and we share a firm resolve to leave our children with clean air, clean water and clean soil.

Given that seismic testing guidelines released by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management appear more permissive than environmental groups want and less permissive than industry wants, these guidelines aim for a reasonable balance of priorities.

Further, as representatives of an area of our country with strong ties to national defense, we all agree that there should be no interference with Department of Defense operations, and both Senate and House bills contain legislative language that make this clear.

We also share a commitment to strengthen America's economy and national security for future Americans. We cannot ignore the opportunity to create thousands of jobs for the commonwealth, generate tax revenues for our schools and roads, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Compression on the federal defense budget will continue, and the energy industry presents a major opportunity to grow and diversify the Hampton Roads economy. Energy can create high-paying jobs for those Virginians in our community who have been hit hardest by the recession - particularly those in our inner cities.

Like the Virginians we represent, the five of us - three Republicans, two Democrats - have different views on many national issues. But we agree on this: America needs a comprehensive energy strategy that addresses our short-term energy needs and the long-term economic and national security of our nation, and we are committed to advancing, in an environmentally responsible way, the great opportunity that exists with Virginia coastal energy.

Mark Warner and Tim Kaine represent Virginia in the U.S. Senate. Randy Forbes, Rob Wittman and Scott Rigell represent Virginia's fourth, first and second districts, respectively, in the House of Representatives.

This piece appeared originally in The Virginian-Pilot on August 1, 2014. 
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