Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons joined 21 senators in a March 6 letter to U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke requesting an extension of the March 9 deadline to submit comments on the Draft Proposed Program for the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-24 and on scoping for the required Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.

In the letter, the senators wrote, “We believe a 60-day extension of the deadline for comments is necessary to allow for more public hearings in coastal areas and to give the public sufficient time to submit comments on offshore drilling proposed for nearly the entire U.S. Outer Continental Shelf, encompassing over 90 percent of total OCS acreage — the largest number of potential offshore lease sales ever proposed.”

The letter also requested additional public meetings in rural and coastal communities in each affected state and the opportunity for the public to offer formal oral testimony at public meetings.

“These public hearings are a critical opportunity for citizens to learn about and comment on the Department of the Interior’s five-year plan, and due to the geographic extent of the proposed leasing program, it is imperative to provide adequate access for each region,” wrote the senators.

“We do not believe that the 23 currently announced ‘open house’ style meetings are adequate in duration, location, nor format needed to meet the public input requirements. Several of the public meetings were postponed and rescheduled later in the public comment period, which does not leave adequate time for stakeholders to learn details about the DPP at the public meeting and submit meaningful comments before the comment period ends,” wrote the senators.

“In addition, formal oral testimony, as opposed to an ‘open house’ format, would better ensure that people’s concerns are heard and recorded publicly,” wrote the senators.

The full text of the letter is available at bit.ly/2D4ky1G.