President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Friday rescinding an Obama-era policy keeping most of the Arctic seas off-limits to drilling and asking the Department of the Interior to review the current five-year offshore leasing plan.
Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters Thursday evening the “America First Offshore Energy” order would reverse an executive order issued in the final weeks of former President Barack Obama’s tenure.
In December, Obama designated “the vast majority of U.S. waters in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas as indefinitely off limits to offshore oil and gas leasing,” and promised to review drilling through a “climate” lens.
Environmentalists claimed the ban was “permanent” since the former president relied on a 1953 law that does not give a future president the power to undo a drilling ban. There’s no case law on the matter, but activists will likely challenge Trump’s repeal.
“We are reversing those and putting those into review,” Zinke told reporters in a press briefing.
Zinke said the order also directs his department to review regulations and permits for offshore drilling. He expects the review to take years, stressing it would not change the current offshore leasing plan.
Trump promised to rescind “job-killing” energy regulations imposed by the Obama administration. Zinke said potentially opening up more offshore energy opportunities could spur job growth.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the Middle East,” Zinke said. “It’s a lot better to produce it here with reasonable regulations” than overseas with no environmental regulations.
“It is better to produce energy here than be held hostage by foreign enemies,” he added.
Zinke also said offshore wind turbines would be considered in the review, which is popular with coastal state governors. The review will also green-light seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean and other areas to get a better idea of what resources are out there.
“This is not about giving one section of our energy a step up or a step down. We don’t pick winners and losers. The market has got to react to that,” Zinke said.
Trump’s order also prevents the Department of Commerce from creating new marine national monuments or expanding existing ones. The department will be ordered to conduct a review of offshore monuments to see if they run afoul of the original intent of the Antiquities Act.
That review is similar to the one Trump signed Wednesday, ordering the Interior Department to conduct a review on land-based national monuments. Interior will examine whether national monuments created over the past 20 years should be rescinded or modified.
Zinke said 94 percent of U.S. offshore areas were off-limits to all development. Those areas are estimated to hold 90 billion barrels of oil and 127 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Environmentalists weren’t happy with Zinke’s announcement. Activists pointed to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico as evidence why offshore drilling is too dangerous.
“Let me be clear: that would be a huge, bad, stupid mistake. I doubt President Trump would want to see Mar-a-Lago, or any of his other coastal resorts, covered in oil,” Jacqueline Savitz, senior vice president for oceans at Oceana, said in a statement.
Zinke said environmental concerns were “valid,” adding that he would not rescind environmental or safety regulations deemed effective in their review. Zinke wants to enforce policies that “aren’t arbitrary” — a major criticism of Obama-era offshore policies.