A oil drilling rig in the Santa Barbara Channel off California.
The Trump administration said Thursday it wants to open nearly the entire US coastline to oil and gas drilling, reversing an Obama era policy and drawing swift criticism from coastal governors and environmental groups.
In a statement Thursday, the Interior Department proposed allowing drilling on 90% of the outer continental shelf, the underwater land off the US coasts. The move would be a radical departure from current policy, which was created in the final days of the Obama administration and prevents drilling on 94% of the outer continental shelf. The Trump administration is now seeking “the largest number of lease sales in US history” for energy companies hoping to extract coastal oil and gas.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke described the policy Thursday as a way to bolster the US economy and “energy security,” as well as a means of providing “billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands and parks.” The comments echo Zinke's boss, President Trump, who made carbon-based energy a major theme of his campaign and has spent his time in office rolling back various energy and environmental regulations.
The administration's plan drew immediate opposition from governors of states along the nation's coasts. In a joint statement Thursday, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee — all Democrats — vowed to “do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action.”
“They’ve chosen to forget the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the fishing, recreation and tourism industries in our states,” the three western governors said. “They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”
The West Coast is likely to be a particular point of conflict; the governors noted that it has been decades since the federal government sold drilling leases in the region, and liberal coastal communities are likely to balk along with their political leadership at the idea of new rigs appearing off their beaches.
Western governors, however, weren't the only ones opposed to the Trump administration's plans. In a statement, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who endorsed Trump during the election, said he opposed drilling off the coast of his state, adding that he wants to meet with Zinke to discuss “the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration.”
Delaware Gov. John Carney also slammed the plan, saying it “would create the risk of a catastrophic spill or other related disasters,” and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper called it “a critical threat to our coastal economy.”
Environmental groups swiftly condemned the drilling proposal. The Natural Resources Defense Council called the plan “backward-looking” and said it “puts marine life and coastal communities at risk and contributes to the present and ever-growing impacts of climate change.”
The Center for Biological Diversity called the move “appalling” and said it “should be a call to action for everyone who wants to move past the dirty energy and politics of the past.”
“People from coast to coast must resist this shortsighted, climate-wrecking giveaway to the oil industry,” it added.
The proposal still has several phases to pass through before becoming policy, including a public comment period and an environmental impact report. Current policies will remain in place until Trump's plan is finalized, and Thursday's announcement characterized the proposal as a program that would stretch from 2019 to 2024.