Editorial: Why Trump’s drilling plan is wrong for Florida, nation

Published January 5 2018
Updated January 5 2018

The Trump administrationís plan to open virtually all U.S. coastal waters to new oil and gas drilling is wrongheaded in every respect. Itís bad for Florida, which depends on a healthy environment for its multibillion-dollar tourism, fishing and agriculture industries. Itís bad for American military readiness, which depends on open waters near the coast for U.S. forces to conduct training exercises. And itís bad for Americaís economy and influence in the world, as other states and nations continue to reap the benefits of leading a global shift toward renewable energies.

This invitation to drill, of course, was expected. President Donald Trump signed an order in April directing the Interior Department to review an Obama-era plan that limited drilling in areas of the Arctic and southeast Atlantic between 2017 and 2022. The president was looking to maximize production activity on the outer continental shelf in the Alaska region, the southern and mid Atlantic and the western and central Gulf of Mexico. On Thursday, the department issued a proposal to reverse the Obama-era rules; rather than 94 percent of the outer continental shelf being off-limits, more than 90 percent would be open for leases under a five-year plan beginning next year.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinkeís plan calls for 47 lease sales in 25 of the 26 offshore planning areas by 2024, including 12 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. Ten of those sales in the gulf would be in areas not currently off-limits. A congressional agreement from 2006 bars drilling within 125 miles of the Florida Panhandle and 235 miles of Tampa Bay. But that agreement expires in 2022. After it expires, the Trump plan calls for two lease sales in the eastern and central gulf, marking the first time since the 1980s that the majority of the eastern gulf would be open to drilling.

The Trump administrationís review was clearly a sham to rationalize a drill-baby-drill energy policy in even the most sensitive waters. The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon rig disaster showed how a spill off the coast of Louisiana could impact Florida. It exposed the difference between a safety plan that exists on paper and one thatís tested by reality. Thatís one reason Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has led the charge to block drilling off Floridaís coast. He sought to pre-empt the Trump administrationís move last year with legislation to block any new areas for drilling until at least 2022. Nelson has also moved to extend the existing ban in the eastern gulf an additional five years, until 2027.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Rick Scott and other state Republican leaders also voiced opposition to the Trump plan on Thursday, joining Democrats in a bipartisan push to keep waters off Floridaís coast off-limits. Scott said he asked to "immediately meet" with Zinke to relay his concerns. Beyond the environmental and economic risks of a spill, the Pentagon also sees keeping oil rigs away from the coast of Florida as essential for protecting the safety of military training operations in the area. The Defense Department, in a letter to Congress last year, said it "cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium." The ban needs to be made permanent.

Scientists still have not fully documented the impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Even giants in the industry, including BP, are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to diversity their energy sources, as more countries and manufacturers reap the benefits of emerging technologies that are making consumer products more efficient and clean energy more reliable and affordable. The Trump administrationís plan gave the BP disaster and newer trends in energy production barely a nod. While it argued that new steps the government has taken since the Deepwater Horizon blowout have made offshore drilling safer, the administration failed to note its effort to repeal these reforms, including proposing looser rules on blowout preventers, a runaway rigís last line of defense.

Itís one thing to outline a national energy strategy with a targeted approach for fulfilling Americaís economic and foreign policy goals. But this plan offers the gas and oil industry an open canvas to drill without balancing the interests of individual states, the environment or innovations in technology that are transforming the energy sector. Floridaís governor, two U.S. senators and other leading officials need to press this administration to replace this wild ambition with a more thoughtful plan to meet the nationís energy and security needs and protect the state from the dangers of drilling.