An energy superpower at any cost

U.S. president Donald Trump is opening up nearly all offshore waters along the American coast to oil exploitation, setting him on a collision course with conservationists. Even Republicans have criticized the decision. John Dyer reports from Boston.

President Donald Trump has opened up 90 per cent of U.S. coasts to offshore oil exploration.

President Donald Trump has opened 90 per cent of offshore waters to oil exploration, triggering accolades from industries but a firestorm of criticism from Democrats as well as Republicans.

“Under President Trump, we are going to become the strongest energy superpower this world has ever known,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke during a press conference earlier this month.

Overturning Reagan’s cessation

The move will reverse a five-year ban on new offshore drilling enacted under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama and overturn Ronald Reagan’s 1984 cessation of new permits for drilling off the California coast. It would also open areas in the Alaskan Arctic and the Northeastern U.S. to drilling for the first time.

Erik Milito, director of the influential American Petroleum Institute, said Trump’s move would significantly boost the country’s economy and energy independence.

“This new offshore leasing plan is an important step towards harnessing our nation’s energy potential for the benefit of American energy consumers,” said Milito. “The ability to safely and responsibly access and explore our resources in the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is a critical part of advancing the long-term energy security of the U.S.”

Even Republicans oppose the move

But Republican and Democratic governors alike panned the move.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Trump ally, said he feared another disaster like the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010 that killed 11 rig workers and dumped an estimated 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“I have asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” Scott said in a statement. “My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.”

Environmentalists agreed.

“These ocean waters are not President Trump’s personal playground,” said a statement issued by 60 groups, including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and League of Conservation. “They belong to all Americans and the public wants them preserved and protected, not sold off to multinational oil companies.”

Ignoring the science

California Governor Jerry Brown, Oregon Governor Kate Brown and Washington Governor Jay Inslee vowed to fight the order, suggesting a lawsuit was in the offing. Presidents have leeway on opening offshore areas to drilling, but it is not clear if Trump overstepped his authority by opening so many areas to exploration.

“For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further drilling, and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, shortsighted action,” the three governors said in a statement.

“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. They’ve chosen to ignore the science that tells us our climate is changing and we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”

Time to comment

Zinke said the 18-month comment period would give critics a chance to express themselves and determine the scope of the final plan for drilling.

“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 press release. “The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American energy dominance.”

Milito said he welcomed an opportunity to present evidence that critics of the order were wrong.

“The oil and natural gas industry has the experience and advanced technology to develop the nation’s offshore energy safely,” he said.

Elections could tip balance

Notably, the 18-month period would extend beyond the November 2018 Congressional elections that many political pundits say could result in Democrats taking power away from the Republicans in the U.S. Senate and expanding their numbers in the U.S. House of Representatives.

If Democrats control a branch of Congress, they would have leverage to reverse the offshore drilling move in exchange for supporting a different Trump proposal.

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