March 18, 2016

A Surfrider DC member’s visit to the White House

HUMONGOUS update: On March 15, 2016, President Obama removed the Atlantic from BOEM’s plan for offshore drilling. The newly released “Proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022” specifically excludes the Mid- and South Atlantic from drilling.  (Read Surfrider’s full statement here.)

I never thought I’d be carrying a surfboard into the White House…but there I was, a Surfrider volunteer with boardbag in hand, entering one of the most secure complexes in DC with a 5’1″ wood board shaped by FireWire.

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Oil rigs off our East Coast
The Department of Interior is considering opening portions of the Atlantic Ocean off our East Coast for oil and gas drilling. If you’re like me, you read that sentence and several expletives ran through your head. There are risks for severe environmental and ecological harms resulting from the exploration and subsequent drilling of these fossil fuels. We all know this. In an attempt to stop drilling in our much-loved Atlantic, Surfrider activated its all-volunteer network to arrange meetings with members of Congress and the Obama administration to explain these harms and ask for a continued ban1 on any such drilling into the future. As a sign of business opposition to drilling, Surfrider asked coastal businesses along the East Coast to sign a wood Firewire surfboard to show their opposition to drilling off our coast. Hundreds of businesses signed that board, including this guy:

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Surfrider unites
Our efforts first convened at Capitol City Brewing Company the evening before our hill climb to a room filled of Surfrider activist from Miami up to New York City all talking about one goal: their meetings with Congressional offices the next day. What’s better than food, brews, and good ole fashioned activism planning? No need for an answer, because clearly nothing. This kickoff dinner was the start of a five-day effort to convince Congress and the Obama administration that drilling was not the answer for the East Coast. Lofty goals you say? Piece of cake I say.

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On Friday morning, we gathered on Capitol Hill for a training session led by HQ staff. Many attendees had never been on Capitol Hill or spoken with Congressional offices. That was ok, Surfrider had our back and walked us all through the process.

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Let’s. Do. This.
Thanks to our training session, our first meetings on Friday went well: we met with a Senator who supported us and our efforts 100%. Let’s just say not all of my meetings went that way, but every staffer I met with listened to our perspectives, was receptive, and I think learned something about the issue of drilling. We knew that we weren’t going to get a decision from each office to support/oppose right there on the spot, but if our all-volunteer group moved the needle even 1% towards not drilling then our visits were a victory.

Chapter members were able to have 12 representatives and senators sign the board. We also had students from a local high school join us for a few meetings, including the meeting where Eleanor Norton Holmes signed the board. Thumbs up was the go-to photo pose of the day apparently.

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After our successful hill climb, our group of volunteers gathered at Public Bar in Dupont to recap, reassess, and celebrates our hill climb.

The last business to sign the board
On Monday, Patagonia’s DC store held an event in partnership with our chapter to be the last business sign the wood surfboard in opposition of Atlantic drilling. We had Surfrider’s Environmental Director Pete Stauffer, DOEE director Tommy Wells, and Patagonia East Coast Manager Scott Overbey. Mark Stevens, assistant manager for Patagonia’s DC store signed the board. Barefoot Wine graciously donated wine for the event.

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On Tuesday morning I joined Surfrider chapter volunteers from the Virginia Beach, Outer Banks, and New Jersey chapters (along with Surfrider staff) as we brought the surfboard to the Department of Interior where we met with representatives from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the bureau responsible for determining leases of the Atlantic for drilling exploration. The BOEM representatives were gracious and we thank them and Director Abigail Hopper for meeting with us about this issue.

We then traveled to the White House complex.

Armed guards, search dogs, and x-ray…standard Friday afternoon
You think airport security is tough? Try getting a surfboard in the middle of DC into the most secure complexes in the city. I kid you not, one security guard just stared at me in bewilderment…literally not a word left his mouth.

Once within the complex, we met with the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality Director Abigail Goldfuss and other CEQ representatives to talk about drilling. We presented her with the wood surfboard and CEQ kept the board as a representation of all of those hundreds of businesses on that board that opposed drilling off their coast. CEQ listened and understood that there are communities along the coast that would be impacted by drilling’s effect on our ocean both economically and ecologically.

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Mission accomplished, more work to do
Our goal was to meet with 50 Congressional offices and representative from the Department of Interior. At the end of our day, we had met with 51 offices and several DOI and CEQ reps. Mission accomplished. #ftw

While this mission was a success, our larger goal of preventing Atlantic drilling is still in sight.

In my humble opinion, the best part of our efforts was seeing the Surfrider network activate its volunteers with the same focus: protect our Atlantic. To think that I’m just one Surfrider member, but my membership and the Surfrider community enables me to amplify my voice to 51 Congressional offices, the Department of Interior, and the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, to help protect MY ocean, MY waves, and MY beaches — that’s a pretty awesome strength.

  1. There was previously a ban on any such drilling in the Atlantic, but it has been lifted in recent years. []

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