U.S. Coasts Still Vulnerable Despite Presidential Memorandum

Facing strong public opposition and near unanimous bi-partisan opposition from Florida’s congressional delegation, President Trump this week issued a Presidential Memorandum withdrawing all federal waters off Florida, Georgia and South Carolina from leasing for oil and gas exploration, development or production for 10 years, starting July 1, 2022. He did so using Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. 1341(a), which provides that:

“The President of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.” 

Presidents Eisenhower, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama all have used this provision to withdraw lands on the outer Continental Shelf (OCS) from oil and gas leasing.

A congressional ban was set to expire on leasing throughout most of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (off the Florida coast) and a small part of the Central Gulf that is 100 miles from Florida’s coast, and that galvanized leasing opponents to action. That moratorium, contained in the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA), expires June 30, 2022. (The July 1, 2022 start date for the ten-year prohibition on leasing in the presidential memorandum appears tied to the moratorium expiration date in GOMESA). There have been legislative efforts to extend or make that moratorium permanent, including H.R. 205 which passed the House of Representatives with bi-partisan support last September, but the Senate has failed to act.

The expiration of that moratorium, combined with the Trump Administration’s drill-everywhere Draft Proposed Five-Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, led to a tremendous public outcry and put pressure on elected officials to oppose the President’s program. That proposal called for several lease sales off Florida’s west and east coasts, Georgia and South Carolina. There were no existing moratoria prohibiting leasing off the east coast of Florida or off the adjoining states of Georgia and South Carolina. (The Department of the Interior refers to these areas as the Straits of Florida and South Atlantic Planning Areas, which is why the presidential memorandum uses them to describe areas Trump is withdrawing.)

There is strong opposition to leasing up and down the east and west coasts, with more than 380 municipalities and over 2,300 elected local, state and federal officials formally opposing offshore oil and gas drilling and seismic airgun blasting. But the president only acted to withdraw areas off Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. North Carolina and all states to the north are still slated for offshore drilling in the Trump administration’s draft plan, as are the West Coast and Alaska.

A massive spill off North Carolina or elsewhere along the east coast, like the one that happened in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, could still devastate Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The only way to truly protect Florida and other coastlines is to deep-six the Trump Administration’s drill-everywhere Five-Year Leasing Program.

In addition, Trump’s withdrawal of areas from leasing does not prohibit pre-leasing oil and gas exploration, so the seismic blasting that is incredibly harmful to ocean life can still go forward. A prohibition on that activity is still needed to protect Florida and other coastal states.

Prohibiting leasing promotes the health of our ocean and communities, but this move by the administration should not be mistaken as a major victory; it leaves major swaths of the country vulnerable to offshore drilling, catastrophic spills and all of the climate-harming carbon pollution oil and gas yields.

Below is the presidential memorandum:

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
September 8, 2020
September 8, 2020


SUBJECT: Withdrawal of Certain Areas of the United States
Outer Continental Shelf from Leasing Disposition

Under the authority granted to me in section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. 1341(a), I hereby withdraw from disposition by leasing for 10 years, beginning on July 1, 2022, and ending on June 30, 2032:

(1) the areas of the Outer Continental Shelf designated by
section 104(a) of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security
Act of 2006, Public Law 109-432; and

(2) the areas currently designated by the Bureau of Ocean
Energy Management as the South Atlantic and Straits of
Florida Planning Areas.
This withdrawal prevents consideration of these areas for any leasing for purposes of exploration, development, or production during the 10-year period beginning on July 1, 2022, and ending on June 30, 2032.

This withdrawal does not apply to leasing for environmental conservation purposes, including the purposes of shore protection, beach nourishment and restoration, wetlands restoration, and habitat protection.

Nothing in this withdrawal affects the rights under existing leases in the withdrawn areas.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.


About the Authors

Sarah Chasis

Senior Strategist, Oceans Division, Nature Program

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