- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 4, 2018

In a massive rollback of the Obama administration’s energy policy, President Trump’s Interior Department on Thursday released a draft proposal that would open nearly all of the nation’s coastal waters to offshore drilling, sparking yet another battle with environmental groups and states that say they’ll fight the plan at every turn.

On a conference call with reporters, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the blueprint would open 25 of 26 planning areas off America’s coasts to drilling. Waters off the West and East coasts, in the Gulf of Mexico, and off Alaska’s shores will be opened to oil exploration; only one area, the North Aleutians Basin near Alaska, will be left alone.

“We’re going to become the strongest energy superpower,” Mr. Zinke said in explaining the five-year plan, which would stretch from 2019 through 2024.

In total, about 90 percent of total U.S. offshore acreage could now be opened for drilling, if the draft plan goes into effect. By contrast, the Obama administration had cordoned off about 94 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf as part of its broader effort to limit fossil fuel development, especially on federal lands and waters.

Mr. Zinke said the vast difference in approaches to offshore drilling has financial ramifications. In 2008, the Interior Department pulled in $18 billion in offshore drilling leases. By 2016, that had fallen to just $2.6 billion.

“We can do better,” the secretary said.

But the plan is already encountering resistance from environmental groups and, more importantly, from state leaders.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, said he wants his state’s offshore waters taken out of the proposal.

“I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” he said, as quoted by several Florida media outlets.

State officials in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, California and elsewhere have raised objections to oil exploration off their coasts, setting up a potential clash between the White House and state governments.

Meanwhile, environmental groups say the proposals is just the latest in a series of steps taken by the Trump administration to turn over America’s lands and waters to the fossil fuels industry.

“If the Interior Department’s five-year oil and gas leasing plan moves forward, extractive companies will have access to drill off nearly every coast in the United States. This puts coastal communities and economies, marine wildlife, public health, and the climate at an unimaginable risk,” said Mary Sweeters, a climate campaigner with the leading environmental group Greenpeace. “For federal agencies and government officials to greenlight more oil and gas development while our communities are still recovering from massive fires, devastating droughts, and destructive superstorms is immoral and reckless.”

Mr. Zinke said the proposal will be open for the next 60 days, and that he’s willing to meet with anyone, including governors, who has concerns. He also said he’s open to a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Scott to discuss Florida’s specific concerns.

“Florida is going to have a say,” the secretary said.

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

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