BOSTON — Trump administration plans to encourage offshore oil and gas drilling are motivating attempts to exempt Massachusetts, and maybe foil the entire scheme.
Lawmakers are weighing a ban on drilling for oil or gas in state waters, as well as a prohibition on the lease of state lands for oil or gas exploration, development or production.
While there are no immediate plans to drill off the New England coast, green groups say the proposal would fend off future efforts by denying access to the state’s land and waters, thus making exploration impractical.
The legislation, which goes before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture on Tuesday, is part of a multi-state effort to thwart President Donald Trump’s plan to open more than 90 percent of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas exploration.
New Jersey, Delaware and California passed offshore drilling bans last year. Similar legislation has been filed in New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Environmentalists say drilling will harm ecosystems and endangered species, such as the North Atlantic right whale, while threatening commercial fishing and tourism businesses.
“Massachusetts has always been a leader in prohibiting oil and gas development off its shores in federal waters,” said Peter Shelley, a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, which backs the proposal. “Something like this makes a lot of sense, even if it is somewhat symbolic at this point. It’s kind of a belt-and-suspenders approach.”
Representatives of the oil and gas industry say such state-level restrictions are unnecessary, because there are no plans to drill off the coast.
The Massachusetts Petroleum Council, a trade group, wants to amend the proposal to exempt existing terminal ports in Boston and Braintree that import oil and gas supplies.
“We’re not trying scuttle it, but we want to make sure there won’t be any unintended consequences,” said Steve Dodge, the council’s executive director. “There’s a concern that the way the legislation is worded could affect legitimate terminal operations by petroleum companies.”
State efforts to restrict oil and gas companies’ access to state land mirror California’s tactics in response to a proposal in the late 1980s to open up the continental shelf to drilling.
Dozens of coastal cities and counties organized to pass local ordinances banning onshore facilities that would support offshore drilling.
The Trump administration has said it wants to open the Atlantic coast to exploration as part of a strategy to help the U.S. achieve “energy dominance” in the global market. The administration recently gave fossil fuel exploration companies a green light to conduct seismic surveys across a stretch of ocean floor between Delaware and Florida.
Among areas proposed for drilling is Georges Bank, a shallow fish spawning ground southeast of Cape Cod.
Coastal drilling is now only allowed off the coasts of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and parts of Alaska and California.
Democratic governors along both coasts unanimously oppose drilling, as do a number of Republicans, including Gov. Charlie Baker in Massachusetts.
Trump’s offshore drilling plans have spurred legal challenges, including a multi-state lawsuit filed in December, which Attorney General Maura Healey has joined.
Environmental groups say state-level bans on offshore drilling need to be coordinated in order to succeed.
“Everyone has to get on board to support this kind of legislation,” said Jack Clarke, director of public policy at the Massachusetts Audubon Society. “It has to be a regional effort.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.