Virginia Beach NAACP rallies behind Rep. Rigell offshore drilling bill

June 11, 2013|By Todd Allen Wilson, | 804-643-0499

The Virginia Beach chapter of the NAACP threw its support this week behind federal legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach, to lift the moratorium on drilling for natural gas and oil in the state's coastal waters.

Rigell's plan is similar to a bill sponsored by Virginia's Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and would lift the five-year moratorium on offshore drilling put in place by President Barack Obama's administration. Under the measure Virginia would receive 37.5 percent of lease revenue.

Carl Wright, Virginia Beach Branch NAACP president, sent Rigell a letter that said he was pleased to support congressional efforts to lift the drilling ban because of the potential jobs it would create in the region.

"Given the unemployment rate, especially that of African Americans here in Virginia Beach and the region, we are encouraged that you are taking proactive steps toward increasing employment opportunities in this part of the commonwealth," Wright wrote.

The NAACP is the latest group to publicly express it's support for the legislation. Other groups supporting the bill include the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission and the Virginia Beach African American Political Action Council.

Rigell said he has reached out to a variety of groups concerning the measure in order to drum up wide-based community support.

"We're all in this together, and we have a shared objective of advancing job creation in Hampton Roads – and I think this is the number one way to do it," Rigell said in an interview. "I'm looking for and receiving tangible, strong expressions of support from a very, very diverse range of constituencies that have normally not been involved in the process."

Rigell said he has been talking regularly about the legislation with Kaine and Warner, and hopes to have his bill passed as part of a larger piece of legislation in the House of Representatives by early next month.

A similar bill sponsored by Rigell passed the House during the last congressional session but languished in the Senate. Rigell said he is hopeful that with the strong community support a version of the bill lifting the ban on offshore drilling will pass both chambers and make it to the president's desk by the end of the year.

But not everybody is on board. Glen Besa, executive director of the Virginia Sierra Club chapter, said Hampton Roads would be better served if Rigell, Kaine and Warner put forward legislation to battle climate change and rising sea levels.

He said the risks of offshore drilling in Virginia outweigh the benefits.

"As we saw with the Gulf oil disaster, oil spills decimate tourism and fishing industries. In Virginia, that means risking over $2.5 billion and over 100,000 jobs in industries that depend on healthy ocean and Chesapeake Bay waters and clean beaches," Besa said. "It's a risk that remains real as large spills continue to occur around the world and as Congress has yet to pass a single law strengthening federal oversight of offshore oil and gas development."

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