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An Interior Department official told a group of oil and gas executives that President Donald Trump's frequent "distracting" conduct has helped shift public attention away from (Photo: arbyreed/Flickr/cc)

Trump Uses 'Art of Distraction' to Push Through Dangerous Policies Like Offshore Drilling, Interior Official Admits

In the coming weeks, the Trump administration will unveil its official proposal to open up the Atlantic to drilling—as many are distracted by the president's manufactured national emergency and erratic conduct

Julia Conley

Confirming what a number of Trump critics have pointed out about the president's ability to pass some of his most dangerous policies while stoking public outrage about unrelated matters, a top Interior Department official shared with fossil fuel executives recently how this strategy has been beneficial to corporate polluters.

According to the Guardian, at a meeting of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors (IAGC) in February, assistant secretary for land and minerals management Joe Balash told the crowd that Trump's ability to distract the public has made it possible for the administration to forge ahead with a plan to open up the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas drilling, likely beginning in the coming weeks.

"We have 120 municipalities, 1,200 elected officials, 42,000 businesses and 500,000 that have registered their opposition to offshore drilling and exploration in the Atlantic. And yet, big oil has more influence over this administration." —Vicki Clark, Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast

A year after provoking outcry with its draft proposal for expanded offshore drilling, the Interior Department is expected to introduce its official plan for leasing parts of the Atlantic from New Jersey to Florida, up to 200 nautical miles from the coastline.

"The president has a knack for keeping the attention of the media and the public focused somewhere else while we do all the work that needs to be done on behalf of the American people," Balash told the trade group, which represents many companies that will likely vie for leases in the Atlantic.

A number of critics recently pointed out Trump's ability to distract as his cover for enacting some of his most wide-reaching and harmful policies.

The Interior Department's meeting with IAGC came weeks before the Trump administration is set to officially propose its five-year program after conferring extensively with fossil fuel interests.

Contrary to Balash's claims that the plan will be rolled out "on behalf of the American people," coastal governments and residents, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, climate action groups, and the marine science community are overwhelmingly opposed to offshore drilling.

Meanwhile, top Interior officials including former Secretary Ryan Zinke and Balash met with fossil fuel interests about 30 times as the administration finalized its plan.

Fifty-one percent of Americans oppose offshore drilling, according to Pew Research, and 56 percent of those who live within 25 miles of a coastline are against the practice. Governors from 10 states protested the administration's draft proposal last year while a coalition of environmental groups filed suit against the U.S. government over the plan.

"We have 120 municipalities, 1,200 elected officials, 42,000 businesses and 500,000 that have registered their opposition to offshore drilling and exploration in the Atlantic," Vicki Clark of the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast told the Guardian. "And yet, big oil has more influence over this administration."

Ahead of the leasing process, the Trump administration is already moving to allow oil and gas companies to begin seismic surveys which will allow the fossil fuel industry to determine where in the Atlantic oil deposits exist—a practice which has been decried by marine scientists and animal rights groups. Seismic surveys can harm and even kill marine wildlife, according to a 2017 study published in Nature. 

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