Trump to Sacrifice Florida and California's Environmental Progress for a "Quick Buck."
The Trump administration unveiled a plan Thursday to open vast new stretches of federal waters to oil and gas drilling, erasing the policies put in place by previous Democratic and Republican administrations and setting up a conflict with state governments fearful about the risk of spills.
The proposal drew immediate criticism from Florida officials, including Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a supporter of President Donald Trump who is expected to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson this year, as well as Republican Sen. Marco Rubio.
The Interior Department's newly proposed five-year outer continental shelf plan, designed to align with President Donald Trump’s call for increased domestic energy production, would put up for auction the right to drill in areas offshore that in some cases had been off limits for decades. It would allow Interior to offer for lease federal waters in the Arctic, as well as the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, even as the department proposes to loosen offshore drilling safety regulations put in place after the massive 2010 BP oil spill.
“This is the start at looking at American energy dominance and looking at our offshore dominance," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told a conference call. "This is the beginning of an opening up. We will listen to all the communities of stakeholders. The states will have a voice.”
Thursday's move starts a process that will run for at least several months, since Interior is required to collect public comment on the plan. But the department has already taken some steps to open some formerly closed areas, proposing earlier Thursday to make available seismic survey data for the waters off Hawaii that would be useful for oil and gas companies looking to explore the area.
But it would put the administration — and oil and gas drillers — in direct opposition to state lawmakers who don’t want to see oil rigs dotting their coastline. Tourism in Gulf Coast states took years to recover from the 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11 people and spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the water, ultimately costing the oil company more than $40 billion in fines and clean-up.
“The question of to-drill-or-not-to-drill has already been asked and answered” by coastal states now included in Interior’s leasing map, said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at environmental group Oceana. “This plan proposes to open up places that have been closed to drilling for more than 30 years, and we expect those communities to make their voices heard.”
Industry groups applauded the move, saying the energy companies would benefit from increased access to federal lands.
"The plan announced today is a long term commitment to securing our energy future, and would help cement America’s role as an energy superpower, creating jobs and contributing to our economy," said Karen Harbert, chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute.
In a Senate floor speech Wednesday, Nelson vowed to fight drilling in the state’s coastal waters, and threatened to seek to undo any Interior action by using the Congressional Review Act, a long-shot move since Republicans control both Congress and the White House.
Nelson called on Floridians to join him in fighting the move, invoking BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster and saying they should remember "what happened to us when the beaches of Pensacola Beach were blackened with tar and oil, and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state.”
Gov. Scott also joined in calling for Trump to reconsider, saying he has asked to meet with Zinke directly to urge him to remove Florida's coastal areas from the plan.
The proposal calls for the first lease sales to take place in the waters off Alaska's northern coast before moving to the water off the lower 48 states.
"In 2019-2024, we will conduct 47 different lease sales, starting in Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Then we jump to lease sales in Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic planning areas," Kate MacGregor, deputy assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management, told the call.
President Barack Obama had considered opening portions off the Atlantic coast to oil and gas exploration until local pushback convinced his administration to reverse course. But the Trump administration may not place as much weight on local input, said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.
“The governors of Virginia and North Carolina have specifically asked to exclude those states from a five-year leasing plan,” Weaver said. “You’re going to see a fight here, not only with locals but with state governments.”
Representatives for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and New Jersey Gov.-elect Phil Murphy, all of whom have opposed offshore drilling proposals in the past, declined to comment pending review of Interior’s proposed plan. Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam also has previously voiced opposition to offshore drilling expansion near the state.
Prospects could be even dimmer for major new drilling in the Pacific. The waters off California haven’t been offered for drilling to companies in decades, and the region remains wary of new projects since the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara that was the worst in the country’s history until the Exxon Valdez spill two decades later.
A spokesman for California Gov. Jerry Brown declined to comment as to what the state may do if Trump puts the Pacific up for lease. In 2016, Brown had called on Obama to place the Pacific permanently on the no-drill list.