- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Trump administration is putting more than 76 million acres of federal water up for lease in the largest offshore drilling initiative in American history.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the massive lease sale, slated for March 2018, on Tuesday morning, and said the move is a key component of the administration’s effort to tap U.S. energy reserves and reap the economic benefits that come along with them.

“In today’s low-price energy environment, providing the offshore industry access to the maximum amount of opportunities possible is part of our strategy to spur local and regional economic dynamism and job creation and a pillar of President Trump’s plan to make the United States energy dominant,” Mr. Zinke said in a statement. “And the economic terms proposed for this sale include a range of incentives to encourage diligent development and ensure a fair return to taxpayers.”

The 76.9 million-acre lease sale will include federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The area up for lease is roughly the size of New Mexico, the Interior Department said.

Federal royalties from both onshore and offshore energy exploration dropped dramatically during the Obama years as environmental regulations hampered production on government-owned lands. Mr. Trump and Mr. Zinke said reversing that policy — and directing money to government coffers in the form of royalty payments — would be a top priority.

The unprecedented lease sale will be streamed online, Mr. Zinke said. It will be held in New Orleans.

GOP lawmakers praised the decision.

“Unlike the previous administration, this one understands that expanded offshore energy development benefits working families, consumers, and our national security. This is a win for Mississippi and the entire country,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, Mississippi Republican.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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