Trump’s offshore drilling order prompts bi-partisan backlash

Oyster fishermen off the coast of Florida. Clean coastal waters provide $95 billion in economic activity along the Atlantic Coast, prompting lawmakers to oppose Trump’s plans to open it to oil drilling. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser

President Trump’s new executive order on offshore drilling has prompted a backlash from coastal legislators on both sides of the aisle. The order, signed Friday, guts ocean protections and seeks to expand offshore drilling in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans.

While politics often pits environmental-minded liberals against “drill-baby-drill” conservatives, when it comes to offshore drilling, opposition is bipartisan. Instead of increasing “energy independence,” as the president intended (it won’t), Trump’s order is bringing together Democrats and Republicans who know that expanded offshore drilling would have profound economic risks.

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On the same day Trump signed the order, Tea Party stalwart Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) introduced the Coastal Economies Protection Act, a bill that would ban offshore drilling in the U.S.-controlled Atlantic Ocean and in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico for the next 10 years. The legislation was co-sponsored by another Republican, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (NJ).

In a press statement, Sanford tied his position to the more than 120 bipartisan resolutions opposing drilling in the Atlantic that were passed by municipal governments from New Jersey to Florida since 2015. “The Republican party has always said it believed that the government closest to the people governs best,” Sanford said. “In this case, people from up and down the Atlantic have said in unequivocal fashion that what happens next in their coastal communities should be driven by local decisions rather than mandates that come from Washington.”

Sanford concluded that, “The administration’s proposal is disappointing and at odds with the overwhelming chorus of voices at home speaking out against offshore drilling.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), an outspoken Trump supporter, recently expressed similar reservations. “I have questions,” McMaster said. “We need to be energy sufficient. We need to be secure. We also need to take care of our precious natural resources.”

The offshore oil industry has had more than 589 reported oil spills since 2001, according to federal data. These spills put coastal jobs and livelihoods at risk.

On Monday, Florida Rep. Vern Buchanan (R) joined with prominent state Democrats Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz and Sen. Bill Nelson in a push to extend the current drilling ban within 125 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast. The Marine Oil Spill Prevention Act would keep the moratorium in place through 2027. “Florida’s beaches are vital to our economy and way of life,” Buchanan said in a statement. “Our coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean.”

Buchanan has also expressed concern that Trump’s executive order also targets drilling safety rules implemented in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, which claimed 11 lives and cost $62 billion. “We shouldn’t jeopardize the state’s economy or environment by gambling on operations that lack adequate safeguards,” he said.

Bipartisan opposition to expanded and eased offshore drilling is not new. The danger posed to coastal and ocean industries like tourism, recreation and fishing have motivated such cooperation for years. In 2015, for example, when the Obama administration was considering auctioning off drilling rights for large areas of the Atlantic Ocean, 31 House members — including eight Republicans — signed a letter to the Obama administration expressing strong opposition to Atlantic offshore oil exploration.

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“Along the Atlantic coast, nearly 1.4 million jobs and more than $95 billion in GDP rely on healthy ocean ecosystems, mainly through fishing, tourism, and recreation,” they wrote. “Seismic testing and oil drilling will put the coastal economy and way of life at risk.”

Trump’s order Friday also seeks to dramatically expand drilling off Alaska’s northern coasts, in part by significantly loosening restrictions put in place by President Obama to protect areas where no oil spill-response infrastructure exists, and where subsistence hunting and fishing underpin Alaska Native tribal communities. For example, at the behest of a coalition of 40 Alaska Native tribes, President Obama established protections for the Bering Sea that banned offshore drilling and formally established a consultation mechanism for the tribes in future federal policy making for the area.

Trump’s order scrapped both the protected area and the consultation process.

Though Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has long maintained strong support for fossil fuel drilling in her state — and enjoyed significant support from Alaska Native voters — her participation in Trump’s signing ceremony for the executive order was decried by Frank Oxereok, a leader in the Bering Sea intertribal coalition.

“Everything we have worked for has pretty much gone out the window,” he told the Alaska Dispatch News. “This may destroy our way of life and I’m really disappointed in Lisa Murkowski, who was standing next to the president when he signed this order.”

Claire Moser contributed to this report.


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