Experts: Long Road for Drilling Order 04/29 10:45
(AP) -- President Donald Trump's executive order seeking to find new ocean
expanses in the Atlantic and the Arctic for offshore drilling isn't likely to
reach its goals anytime soon, but instead will kick off a yearslong review and
Trump signed the order Friday aimed at dismantling a key part of former
President Barack Obama's environmental legacy.
"This executive order starts the process of opening offshore areas to
job-creating energy exploration," he said. "It reverses the previous
administration's Arctic leasing ban and directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
to allow responsible development of off-shore areas that will bring revenue to
our treasury and jobs to our workers."
Despite Trump's assertion that the nation needs to wean itself of foreign
oil, U.S. oil imports have declined in recent years as domestic production
boomed amid improved drilling techniques opening up once unreachable areas.
And environmental law and policy experts questioned Trump's authority to
reverse Obama's withdrawal of certain areas in the Arctic or Atlantic to
drilling, a question likely to be decided in the courts.
"It's not quite as simple as the president signs something and it undoes the
past," said Sean Hecht, a University of California, Los Angeles environmental
For instance, Obama used his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf
Lands Act to protect Arctic areas from oil drilling late last year, a move
Trump's order seeks to undo. At the time, Obama administration lawyers said
they were confident that move would be upheld in court.
Legal experts say the law has never been used by a president to remove
protections, just to create them.
Trump's order also directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to conduct a
review of marine monuments and sanctuaries designated this past decade. Obama
issued monument proclamations under the Antiquities Act, including the
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the Atlantic, which
protected that swath of sea from drilling.
Legal scholars said Trump would enter uncharted waters if he seeks to undo a
national monument proclamation in an effort to remove environmental protections.
Under Trump's order, Interior Secretary Zinke will start to review the
government's plan that dictates which federal locations are open to offshore
drilling, known as the 5-year plan.
The administration can redo the 5-year-plan, but it's a long process. Zinke
said the leases scheduled under the existing plan would remain in effect during
the review, which he estimated would take years before any new leases are
Still, Pam Giblin, an Austin, Texas-based environmental attorney who
represents energy companies said Trump's order is welcome to her clients
despite the limitations they see.
"Every one of these orders is primarily aspirational. But it is starting to
change the lens through which government is talking about fossil fuels," she
The new 5-year plan could indeed open new areas of oil and gas exploration
in waters off Virginia, Georgia and North and South Carolina, where drilling
has been blocked for decades. Many lawmakers in those states support offshore
drilling, and Alaska's governor and its Washington delegation all supported the
But the plan faces opposition from the fishing industry, tourism groups and
even the U.S. military, which has said Atlantic offshore drilling could hurt
military maneuvers and interfere with missile tests needed to help protect the
More than 120 coastal communities from New Jersey to Florida have passed
resolutions opposing any Atlantic drilling.
"Allowing offshore drilling is a forever decision that will forever change
our way of life for the worse," said Frank Knapp, president of Columbia, South
Carolina-based Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast.
Environmental groups are preparing for the fight to come, saying that
opening up vast areas to drilling harms whales, walruses and other wildlife and
exacerbates global warming.
"We will go to court to enforce the law and ensure President Obama's
protections remain in place," Trip Van Noppen, president of the environmental
legal organization Earthjustice, said in a statement.