Trump Acts Quickly to Open Our Coasts to Offshore Drilling

If you thought Earth Day would give President Trump and his administration pause in their ongoing assault on our environment and health, you were wrong. Instead, the week after hundreds of thousands of people rallied around the world in a global March for Science in support of Earth Day, the Trump administration is preparing to roll back critical protections against offshore drilling in the Arctic and the Atlantic Oceans and potentially force additional drilling off our coasts, while also taking aim at marine monuments and sanctuaries.

The move spurns the clear science that warns us that opening the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans to oil and gas production—if the industry managed to pull it off in such risky and challenging seas—could derail our efforts to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, locking America into decades of carbon pollution. It also presents a very real threat to America’s oceans and coastal communities because of the harms and health hazards that accompany offshore oil and gas development, including seismic blasting and the risk of massive oil spills.

President Trump’s executive order purports to remove permanent protections that keep offshore drilling out of the U.S. Arctic and a number of other sensitive areas, probably including massive Atlantic undersea canyons (details remain a little vague). The order also directs the Department of the Interior to revise its current leasing plan to potentially include new lease sales in these areas, and possibly additional areas in the next five years. And it attempts to fast-track approvals of seismic blasting—the precursor to drilling—to the detriment of endangered whales, fish, and fisheries.

But President Trump’s executive order not only ignores science and citizens, it ignores the law. The law governing offshore leasing authorizes presidents to remove areas from leasing, but if those removals are intended to be permanent, it doesn’t permit a president to reverse that withdrawal. NRDC won’t stand by while the Administration takes actions that are so wrong for the country and environment. We are taking this to the courts with our co-counsel, Earthjustice.

Supported by scienceeconomicsclean energy leaderslocal businesses, and the vast majority of Americans, President Obama used power granted by Congress to permanently protect most of the Arctic Ocean and a chain of deep sea canyons in the Atlantic Ocean, stretching from the Chesapeake Bay to Canada’s border, from dirty and dangerous offshore oil drilling. He also removed the entire Arctic and Atlantic from the administration’s five year leasing plan, responding to a groundswell of bipartisan local and national calls to preserve and protect our public ocean resources and all they support.

And for good reason. America’s oceans sustain life, not only for the vast array of marine species that inhabit their deep waters and coasts, but for all of us. The Atlantic Ocean supports a multi-billion-dollar sustainable seafood economy, and its coastal communities thrive thanks to clean and healthy oceans and beaches. And the Arctic Ocean is one of our last truly wild places. It not only nurtures a vast array of unique wildlife, but its health is also fundamental to regulating Earth’s climate.

President Obama’s decision to protect Arctic and Atlantic Ocean waters from expanded drilling came as a result of overwhelming support. A 2016 poll found 59 percent of Americans supported the idea to permanently protect the Arctic and Atlantic oceans from oil drilling. More than 1.4 million people submitted comments opposing offshore drilling to the Obama administration. Members of the U.S. House and Senate called on President Obama to protect the Atlantic and Arctic. Native Alaskan residents and thousands of Atlantic coast communities, businesses, and municipalities declared their opposition to drilling and seismic testing. Veterans spoke out on the security risks of Arctic drilling and climate change; and a host of environmental, Latino, conservation, faith-based leaders and women’s rights organizations called for permanent protection of these vibrant, oil-free waters that belong to all Americans.

President Trump not only wants to hand over our oceans to big polluters who place profits before public health, he also wants to remove protections for some of our most unique and valuable ocean ecosystems. This order directs agencies to halt designation or expansion of marine sanctuaries, and to review all marine national monuments designated in the last ten years. He is clearly taking aim at our most cherished ocean places. The executive order fits squarely within a long list of efforts by the Administration and the Republican-controlled Congress that weaken or eliminate fundamental protections for clean water, clean air, and public health.

The Trump Administration is moving faster every day in its attempt to hobble agencies and laws that protect Americans and our environment—our air, oceans and land. We must work together to stand up to this assault. Tell your elected representatives to protect our most important ocean treasures, to oppose expanded offshore drilling, and to safeguard our oceans, communities, and climate from reckless, unnecessary offshore drilling. 

About the Authors

Alexandra Adams

Senior Advocate, Oceans Program

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