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Offshore Drilling Plan Inspires 'Citizens Forum' Alongside Federal Hearing In Olympia

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is hosting a public meeting Monday afternoon in Olympia on its plan to open 90 percent of the country's offshore waters to oil and gas drilling. It's one of several around the country but the only one in Washington state.

But several environmental groups say it’s not really a hearing because officials are only taking written comments.

The groups have organized a “Citizens Forum” to take place alongside it, where people can speak out and be recorded. Then the groups will transcribe and submit this testimony as part of the official record.  

Victoria Leistman is an organizer with the Washington chapter of the Sierra Club. She says having oral testimony is important because it’s an opportunity for people to hear from their neighbors and build community.

That kind of engagement has fueled the movement known here as "the thin green line" that has successfully opposed fossil fuel infrastructure projects over the past few years from Bellingham to Vancouver, Washington.

“Together, our voice is louder. And when we come together to speak out, we make a bigger impact,” Leistman said.

Among those attending the forum will be state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who says the federal government should hear directly from the people.

“You cannot get someone’s passion in something that’s written in the same way that you get from someone speaking at a microphone in front of you, where you can see their body language, you can see their expression and you can hear their tone of voice. It’s not the same thing,” Ferguson said.

“And I think there’s a lot of passion on this issue and I wish the federal government would listen to that.”  

Ferguson will testify against offshore drilling both personally and professionally.  As a resident, he likes to describe his experience in younger years hiking 50-60 miles of rugged coast along the Olympic Peninsula.

“I treasure it,” he said.

As state attorney general,  Ferguson wants to register his objection to Florida’s exemption from the federal drilling plan, which he calls "outrageous" and "arbitrary." Ferguson says if the federal government goes forward with it, they can expect to hear from his office in court.  

Many opponents of the plan are attending the forum, ranging from crab fishermen and tribal members to Gov. Jay Inslee and the mayors of coastal towns such as Ocean Shores and Westport. They say the maritime economy in Washington alone supports tens of thousands of jobs and could be devastated by a single oil spill.

The 60-day public comment period on the plan ends March 9. Written testimony can be submitted online through the BOEM website.    

Monday's hearing was rescheduled from an original date a month ago, after Tacoma's Landmark Convention Center, where the BOEM event and ancillary  people's hearing were set to take place, canceled. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to