Wave of Opposition Greets Trump Plan to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling [Campaigns]
At least three Republican governors, more than 100 members of Congress, the U.S. Defense Department, and dozens of environmental groups are lining up to oppose a Trump administration proposal to permit offshore oil and gas drilling across most of the U.S. continental shelf.
The plan would invite fossil companies to buy exploration leases in 47 ocean parcels between 2019 and 2024.
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“Nothing is final,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told media last week. “This is a draft program. The states, local communities, and congressional delegations will all have a say” before the proposal is finalized later this year.
“The Draft Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program was embraced by oil and gas industry groups but is expected to face withering opposition from a wide range of state officials and conservationists,” the Washington Post reports. “Under the proposal, only one of 26 planning areas in the Arctic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean would be off limits to oil and gas exploration.”
While Zinke cast the plan as “a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance,” the Post notes that “potential environmental disasters are on the minds of numerous Atlantic coast governors who oppose drilling in four planning areas from Maine to the Florida Keys. In a resounding bipartisan call, Republicans and Democrats have said in no uncertain terms that oil and gas drilling should not be allowed.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has instructed his state’s attorney general “to take any legal action necessary against the federal government to prevent this possible exploration,” said spokesperson Douglass Mayer.
New Jersey “strongly opposes any waters off our coastline being considered for inclusion in this leasing program,” Gov. Chris Christie wrote in a letter to the Interior Department, noting that the state’s US$44-billion beach tourism industry creates more than 300,000 jobs. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who famously banned references to climate change or global warming in his state’s official correspondence, said Thursday he would adamantly oppose a plan that would threaten a $50-billion beach tourism sector.
“I have asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” Scott said. “My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.”
The Obama administration had considered allowing offshore drilling along the U.S. Atlantic coast between Virginia and Georgia, the Post recalls. The proposal was withdrawn following “a barrage of letters and comments from coastal communities”. The Defense Department also foresaw conflicts with training exercises and military readiness.
Obama ultimately blocked drilling along 94% of the outer continental shelf. Zinke is now proposing to open up about 90%.
The Trump plan received support from administration and fossil industry sources. “I think the default should be that all of our offshore areas should be available,” said American Energy Alliance President Thomas J. Pyle, a Koch-funded lobbyist who headed the Trump transition team for the U.S. Department of Energy. “These are our lands. They’re taxpayer-owned and they should be made available.”
A group of 64 environmental groups issued a joint statement condemning the plan as a “shameful giveaway” to fossil companies, the New York Times reports, with many of the groups saying they were exploring legal options.
Non-profit Oceana called it “a recipe for disaster”, citing the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster as an example of the devastation that could result. “This radical offshore drilling free-for-all is a clear example of politics over people, ignoring widespread local and state opposition,” said Campaign Director Diane Hoskins.
The California-based Surfrider Foundation said nearly 70% of the state population opposes offshore drilling. “That’s a significant majority willing to push back against those who would destroy them with new offshore oil drilling,” said Policy Manager Jennifer Savage.
Frank Knapp, President of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, said thousands of small businesses in the hospitality, tourism, and commercial fishing industries oppose drilling in their states’ coastal waters. “It’s not consistent with our vibrant tourism, fishing, and recreation,” he said. “Their concern is their livelihood, the local economies. We all saw what happened to the Gulf Coast with Deepwater Horizon.”
The Post says Zinke’s announcement could create problems for vulnerable Republican incumbents facing tough re-election campaigns later this year. And Democrats aren’t planning to make things any easier for them.
“This is an incredibly harmful move by an Administration that is already doing everything it can to wreak havoc on our environment,” tweeted Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). “Offshore drilling poses a grave threat to the health and well-being of Californians and we must stand up for our natural resources and public health.”
“Hey @realDonaldTrump, I’ve got a message for you from California,” added Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D). “Ain’t. Gonna. Happen.”