RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said he had a good conversation Saturday with a top Trump administration official over plans to expand drilling for gas and oil off the state's coast, but added that residents need to continue to be loud to make sure their opposition is noted.
Cooper said he spent an hour talking to U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, telling him that drilling could cause unrecoverable damage to the state's $3 billion tourism and fishing industries if there is ever an accident.
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"We told him there is no 100 percent safe method to drill for oil and gas off the coast, particularly in our area off of North Carolina that sees Nor'easters, that sees hurricanes," Cooper said. "We don't call it the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic' for nothing, it would be a catastrophic if there were to be an oil spill."
The Democratic North Carolina governor wants the Republican presidential administration to give him a similar exemption that was offered to GOP Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Last month, Zinke told Scott that Florida's waters would remain closed under President Donald Trump's five-year plan, which would open 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves to development by private companies. Interior officials later said Zinke's promise wasn't a formal plan and the proposal was still under review.
"As we were leaving the meeting I said, 'well, we will take the exemption now if you want to give it to us.' And he did not quite go that far," Cooper said.
Cooper has joined at least 10 other coastal governors from both parties asking Zinke to remove their states from plans to expand offshore drilling from the Arctic Ocean to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster had a similar meeting Friday with Zinke, his staff reported.
Zinke didn't meet with reports after either meeting.
It wasn't all pleasantries between North Carolina officials and Zinke. State attorney general Josh Stein reminded Zinke the state was ready to sue if the Trump administration approves offshore drilling.
Cooper said he wants more time for the public to speak. Currently, the Interior Department plans just one public meeting on the proposal in Raleigh. Cooper wants more meetings along the coast in Wilmington, Morehead City and Kill Devil Hills.
The public also can have a say through comments to the department. "I call on the citizens of North Carolina to be loud about this issue," Cooper said in his news conference after the meeting with Zinke.
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