Trump Administration Eyes as ‘Much as Possible’ for Expanded Offshore Drilling

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks during the lighting ceremony for the 2017 National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse near the White House.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks during the lighting ceremony for the 2017 National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse near the White House. Andrew Harnik / AP Photo


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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday proposed making 90 percent of outer continental shelf acreage available to offshore drilling against the wishes of many governors.

The Obama administration protected 94 percent of the OCS, while the Trump administration’s draft oil and gas leasing program for 2019-2024 includes 47 potential lease sales in 25 of 26 planning areas—the largest number in U.S. history.

Of those sales, 19 are off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic Ocean and seven in the Pacific Ocean.

“Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks,” Zinke said in a statement. “The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance [sic].”

Thus begins the 60-day public comment period consisting of meetings starting Jan. 16 to inform the program’s subsequent iterations.

A coalition of 64 conservation organizations issued a joint statement opposing the plan, saying it would heighten oil spill risks along the U.S. coast and harm public health, coastal economies and businesses, the climate, and marine life in previously undeveloped waters—all for unnecessary energy sources:

There is no need to force coastal residents to shoulder these risks.  The nation can meet its energy needs and grow jobs by investing in clean, renewable domestic sources like wind and solar that never run out.  We can cut pollution, and keep profits right here at home—not in the pockets of oil industry executives and foreign governments.

No community should have to live every day under the threat of an oil spill that could destroy tourism, shutter hundreds of local businesses, throw thousands out of work, and decimate traditional ways of life.  We cannot afford another crippling Gulf of Mexico disaster—off the shores of Louisiana, the Carolinas, New England, Alaska, California or anywhere else.

The statement also pointed out the public comment period for the Obama administration’s outer continental shelf management plan ran multiple years, and the plan itself factored in sound scientific analysis and economics prior to permanently protecting most of the untouched Arctic Ocean and a chain of deep canyons in the Atlantic running from the Chesapeake Bay to Canada. Those areas were removed entirely from the leasing plan.

“The previous administration’s approach to offshore development started from the premise of considering ‘as little as possible.’ The Trump administration starts from the premise of considering ‘as much as possible,’” said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement. “American energy dominance will only be achieved by taking the latter approach. I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration to responsibly develop American energy, spur job growth and maximize revenues to the benefit of taxpayers.”

The Sierra Club sued the Trump administration in May over an executive order attempting to rollback Obama-era protections.

A bipartisan group of governors in the coastal states of New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida oppose expansion of offshore drilling.

“Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are now trying to sell out our coastal communities, our waters, and our climate in order to please corporate polluters,” Michael Brune, the Sierra Club’s executive director, said in a statement. “Millions of Americans have raised their voices to send a message, loud and clear, that they do not want offshore drilling off our coasts, but rather than listen to the people they are supposed to work for, Trump and Zinke are listening to the industry that’s bankrolled their campaigns and filled their administration.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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