Since 2016, President Donald Trump has made quite clear his intention to increase the amount of oil and gas drilling operations along the Atlantic and Arctic coastlines. He vowed upon his election to overturn the Obama era moratorium that has protected these waters and the tourism and fishing industries they support. In 2017, Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to lift restrictions the Obama administration had placed on drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, and to develop a plan to begin leasing out drilling rights in those waters to oil and gas companies. The following year, the Interior Department proposed a draft plan to begin selling offshore drilling leases in “90 percent of US coastal waterways.”
Several coastal states resisted the proposal, including Florida’s Governor at the time, republican Rick Scott. Later that year, in an unexpected change of heart, the Trump administration allowed Florida to opt out of the leasing plan, but none of the other states, which included New Jersey, Washington, and California (all considered Democratic strongholds). It is worth noting that this was a big win for Governor Scott who was running for a Senate seat that year against the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson; Scott narrowly defeated Nelson, landing another Republican in the Senate.
Earlier this month, on September 8, eight weeks before election day, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum to ban the sale of any new offshore drilling leases off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. This memorandum expands the protections of the already existing Obama era moratorium on new drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and extends the protections for ten years — July 1, 2022, to June 20, 2032. Drilling off the Atlantic coast has been a significant political issue for several states in the region, who fear the negative impact on their tourism and fishing industries, as well as other environmental threats. The new moratorium does not protect the coastlines of Virginia and North Carolina, both of which contain significant oil deposits, and both of which have democratic governors. Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina all have republican governors. Florida and Georgia are both key swing states in this year’s general election. Republican Senator of South Carolina, Lindsey Graham is also up for reelection, and is said to have helped draft the new moratorium.
The President has taken the opportunity to praise himself as an environmental steward, proclaiming the title “the great environmentalist.” He spoke at an event in Jupiter, Florida, telling the people, “This protects your beautiful gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come.” Environmental groups, however, are skeptical. The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group, said in a statement, “If this was more than an election year ploy for Trump, we’d have seen a permanent ban on offshore drilling in his first four years.” Jaclyn Lopez, Director for the Florida chapter of the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, wrote in a statement, “Voters shouldn’t be duped by this cheap, last-minute maneuver. It can’t even begin to make up for the aggressive efforts to expand dirty offshore drilling since Trump’s been in office.”
Since Trump took office in 2016, he has rolled back numerous regulations that have been protecting our environment for years. He has sought to weaken or eliminate laws that limit the amount of pollution automobiles, pipelines, and power plants release into the air and water. The Environmental Protection Agency, under Trump’s direction, has removed federal protections for millions of acres of streams and wetlands across the country. Trump has shortened the amount of time allowed for studying the potential environmental damage from new highway and pipeline construction projects and has opened lands and waters to drilling and commercial fishing, that have been considered too fragile and too critical to the survival of biodiversity on this planet to be disturbed. The President even withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, a global agreement to address the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.
Given Donald Trump’s track record on environment and climate policy, it is hard to believe that this is not a political move to appeal to swing voters in Florida and Georgia, and to boost Senator Lindsey Graham’s chances of reelection in November. The fact that only Republican-led states see any protections from this moratorium, further heightens this suspicion. Jamie Williams, President of the Wilderness Society, spoke of Donald Trump and his environmental stewardship, saying, “Trump is the worst President for the environment in our history. No amount of spin from this administration can hide its legacy of abuse, neglect and corruption that threatens our health and the health of our environment.”
Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden has called out Trump for making an election-year flip-flop, writing, “Just months ago, Donald Trump was planning to allow oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida. Now, with 56 days until the election, he conveniently says that he changed his mind. Unbelievable. You don’t have to guess where I stand: I oppose new offshore drilling.”
The Wilderness Society
- an American non-profit land conservation organization that is dedicated to protecting natural areas and federal public lands in the United States. They advocate for the designation of federal wilderness areas and other protective designations, such as for national monuments. https://www.wilderness.org/#
League of Conservation Voters
- Founded in 1970 by environmentalist Marion Edey (LCV) is an American environmental advocacy group that “advocates for sound environmental laws and policies, holds elected officials accountable for their votes and actions, and elects pro-environment candidates.” The organization pursues its goals through voter education, voter mobilization, and direct contributions to political candidates. https://www.lcv.org/
Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund
- The Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund is an affiliated, but separate, organization from the Center for Biological Diversity, a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity. As a 501(c)(4) social welfare non-profit organization, the Action Fund engages in advocacy and political activities that the Center for Biological Diversity cannot participate in. https://centeractionfund.org/
Miller, Z., & Superville, D., Associated Press. (2020, September 09). Trump expands ban on new offshore drilling sites in Atlantic. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Trump-claims-environmental-progress-but-he-s-15550171.php
Teirstein, Z. (2020, September 13). “No one knows where this came from”-Trump bans offshore drilling. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2020/09/no-one-knows-where-this-came-from-trump-bans-offshore-drilling/
The Wilderness Society Blog. (2019, July 8). The facts on Trump’s terrible environmental record. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/facts-trumps-terrible-environmental-record