President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Friday that aims to open up protected waters to offshore drilling, sparking outcry from environmental groups.
The order, announced Thursday, instructs Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke to review two measures put into place by former President Barack Obama that banned operations in parts of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans for five years, as well as an indefinite block on drilling in parts of the Arctic Ocean and other sections of the Atlantic.
It's unclear how Trump plans to undo that rule, which the Obama administration put into place through a provision in a 1953 law that has no process for reversal. When the move was announced in December, environmental groups noted that any attempt to roll back the protections could involve a lengthy court battle.
On Thursday, many of those same organizations decried the Trump administration's plan and said they would fight the order in court.
"When President Obama withdrew irreplaceable and sensitive waters of the Arctic Ocean and important parts of the Atlantic Ocean from offshore drilling, it was a bold step in protecting these seas for our future and girding the global community against the worst effects of climate change," said Trip Van Noppen, president of the environmental law group Earthjustice. "Trump is again going all-in for his Big Oil backers, with an executive order that attempts to undo President Obama's historic action."
"Trump's short-sighted order reverses climate progress and imperils coastal communities, irreplaceable wildlife, and our shared future. It is also against the law. We will go to court to enforce the law and ensure President Obama's protections remain in place," Van Noppen said.
Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity added, "It's as if Trump doesn't care at all about oil spills, whales, or global warming. Oh yeah, he doesn't, and that's pretty clear from this order."
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"This reckless giveaway to the oil industry could wreak havoc in the pristine waters of the Arctic and the rich oceans off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. But we're ready to battle this dangerous plan in court," Monsell said.
Trump's order also blocks expanding marine sanctuaries, continuing his streak this week of gutting protections for national monuments. It comes just a week after the seven-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 17 people and sent nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Atlantic, a disaster from which the coast has still not fully recovered.
"Rolling back these safety rules will only increase our determination to fight new offshore oil drilling," Monsell said. "We will take to the courts and the streets. The stakes were already high, and Trump just raised them."
The order comes just a day before activists around the globe are set to take part in the Peoples Climate March, calling for an end to fossil fuel use and an ushering in of an era of climate justice.
"Seven years, almost to the day, after offshore drilling caused the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, President Trump is taking aim at expanding this dirty and dangerous industry into new areas like the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific oceans, as well as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico," said Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president for U.S. Oceans at Oceana. "Let me be clear: that would be a huge, bad, stupid mistake."
"The smart way to innovate energy production is to invest in the energy of tomorrow, not the energy of yesteryear," Savitz said. "Instead of bringing dirty and dangerous offshore drilling to new areas, we need a winning strategy focused on promoting renewable energy sources like offshore wind, which would produce twice the number of jobs and twice the amount of energy as offshore drilling in the Atlantic."