Environmental groups are responding with fury and condemnation to the Trump administration's new plans, announced Thursday by the Interior Department, to "recklessly" expand offshore drilling for gas and oil in the Gulf of Mexico, around Alaska, and all along the East and West coasts of the United States.
"Instead of threatening our waterways and marine wildlife, President Trump should pay attention to the thousands of citizens, fishermen, and business owners along the Atlantic Coast and the millions of Americans from Alaska to Maine who have already said 'no' to offshore drilling."
—Kelsey Lamp, Environment America
"This is not only bad news for the oceans and our coastal communities—it's a disaster for the climate," warned Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "At a time when we need to put the brakes on fossil fuel development, Trump continues to double down on dirty energy."
If Trump's plan is adopted, oil companies could be permitted to drill for oil in nearly all of the country's waters, including off the coasts of Florida, California, and Maine.
Such a far-reaching expansion, said Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen in a statement, "continues the Trump administration's all-out assault on public lands and waters. The plan proposes to expand offshore oil drilling everywhere, including in our most sensitive waters. It puts irreplaceable wildlife and coastal communities at risk for the sole benefit of Big Oil, and it takes us in exactly the wrong direction on the urgently needed transition to a clean energy future."
Marcie Keever, director of Friends of the Earth's Oceans and Vessels Program, also condemned the plan. "Climate science is clear that the remaining untapped fossil fuel reserves must be kept 'in the ground' if we are to have any chance of leaving a stable climate for future generations," said Keever. "The reckless move by the Trump administration to pursue increased offshore oil drilling is an appalling attack on our already imperiled communities, both marine and terrestrial."
"Instead of threatening our waterways and marine wildlife, President Trump should pay attention to the thousands of citizens, fishermen, and business owners along the Atlantic Coast and the millions of Americans from Alaska to Maine who have already said 'no' to offshore drilling," said Kelsey Lamp, an oceans associate at Environment America who vowed to "fight for our coasts by fighting this plan."
"This plan was hastily concocted, has no basis in science, employs faulty economics, and blatantly disregards the flood of public opinion that strongly opposes opening the Atlantic Ocean to risky, dirty, and unnecessary offshore drilling," concluded Sierra Club Virginia Chapter director Kate Addleson, who pointed to a plan finalized under the Obama administration that excluded the Atlantic coast and nearly the entire Arctic Ocean in response to outcry from environmentalists and millions of residents of coastal communities.
In a statement released Thursday, the Interior Department outlined its five-year plan for authorizing "the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history" for drilling in the National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The department "proposes to make over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development," noting that "the current program puts 94 percent of the OCS off limits."
The five-year leases, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke claimed Thursday, would account for about $15 billion in federal revenue. By contrast, the recently passed Republican tax "scam" includes a permanent corporate tax cut and tax breaks for the wealthy that will cost the federal government $1.4 trillion or more over the next decade.
The proposal also comes just days after the administration announced its intention to scrap several safety requirements for offshore drilling operations, saving the oil industry an estimated $900 million but risking yet more loss of life for workers and increasing the chances of future accidents and spills.
"The new plan will not immediately green-light drilling," the New York Times notes, as "finalizing the plan could take as long as 18 months, experts said, and in the meantime a number of states, including some led by Republican governors, are expected to challenge it in an effort to protect their coastlines."
In a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Fla.) promised to fight against all Interior plans to drill off the coast of Florida, and called on residents of his state to pledge their support to the fight, recalling the consequences of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill—"when the beaches of Pensacola Beach were blackened with tar and oil, and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state."
Lamp urged all those who oppose increased offshore oil and gas exploration to put pressure on the Trump administration to protect the country's precious waters and coastlines.
"Everyone who cares about clean and healthy oceans should make his or her voice heard by commenting against this proposal," said Lamp. "We will fight for our coasts by fighting this plan."