The Trump administration says it wants to open up nearly all of the country’s oceans to oil drilling. So what will this mean for communities around the country that depend on the coast for their livelihood? And what will it mean for our oceans? Will they become the site of the next great oil rush?
Timothy Cama of The Hill has been following this story closely. In our latest episode of our podcast Trump on Earth, he walks us through what exactly the Trump administration is proposing and what the ramifications could be.
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“Shortly after the first of the year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke put out the first step towards developing a new five year plan for offshore drilling,” Cama said. “In this new [plan], drilling would be allowed all along the Atlantic Coast from Maine to Florida, all along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas, all along the Pacific Coast, and all around Alaska — from three miles out to about 200 miles out in some of these areas. This is just the first step in a process, but nonetheless it’s pretty unprecedented to potentially open up all those areas to drilling, and it’s got a lot of people quite alarmed.”
Immediately after the Trump administration released the offshore drilling plan, there was a big wave of opposition from federal, state and local legislators. Nearly all the governors of coastal states expressed opposition, and asked for their states to be exempt from the plan. Only one state got that deal – Florida. Within a week of the new plan’s release, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew to Tallahassee and met with Florida Governor Rick Scott. That same day he announced that the waters near Florida would be taken off the table.
“A lot of political observers saw Secretary Zinke’s action as trying to help out Governor Scott in a Senate race, and try to beef up his environmental credentials — an area where Bill Nelson, the current senator, has been a lot more outspoken throughout his whole time in Congress,” Cama said.
The White House rejected suggestions that Florida’s exemption was a political favor to Scott.
“I am not aware of any political favor that that would have been part of,” spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters.
The deal Florida brokered triggered angry tweets from lawmakers from coast line states who want the same deal. New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted, “New York doesn’t want drilling off our coast either. Where do we sign up for a waiver, Secretary?”
So if almost none of these governors want drilling to happen in their states, what’s the Department of Interior’s response likely to be?
“For the Trump administration, this plan has been about opening up access for drillers to more areas than were available before,” said Cama. “So, in a way, if they open up any new areas then that’s a victory for them. Where you might see that, for example, is off the northern Arctic coast of Alaska. President Obama took Alaska out of his most recent drilling plan, and it’s likely to stay in this current drilling plan. The governor in Alaska and most of Alaska’s leaders do support drilling off the Arctic coast in Alaska. So if the Trump administration can open up that to drilling, then there’s probably room for at least some sort of victory there.”
So do the states have any authority here? Or is each state going to have to make its case with the Department of Interior?
“These decisions are ultimately up to the Department of Interior,” said Cama. “The law governing this, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, says that Interior is supposed to listen to state governors and coastal communities. And it’s in Interior’s best interest to do that. For example, if a state really wanted, they can make it very difficult for companies to drill off of their coast. The waters are owned by the federal government, but if you try to put, for example, docking facilities to bring the oil back onshore, a state could do a lot of things to make that very difficult. The oil companies, or even the federal government, might not have many options to prevent that.”
There’s a lot more with Tim Cama in our interview, including the Trump administration’s plans to roll back safety rules for offshore drilling put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Cama also explains why “energy dominance” is now this administration’s preferred buzz phrase instead of “energy independence.”
This episode was hosted by Julie Grant and Reid Frazier. Trump on Earth is produced by The Allegheny Front, a Pittsburgh-based environmental reporting project, and Point Park University’s Environmental Journalism program.
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