This Solves Nothing

President Trump is issuing an Executive Order to promote oil and gas drilling off America’s beaches and coasts. This shapes up as a major belly flop. Or man overboard. Pick your aquatic metaphor.

Trump is trying to undo permanent protections for the Arctic and Atlantic oceans put in place last December. That should fare about as well in court as his immigration order. President Obama enacted the ban under a statutory provision that is purely protective, one that authorizes removal of outer continental shelf lands from future federal mineral leasing or sale. Stare all you want at the law, it only allows protection of the OCS. Nothing else, least of all removing protections. All the alternative facts in the world won’t convince a judge otherwise.

And his directive sets in motion a review that is plainly designed as groundwork for retrenching on a whole series of other well-designed and popular offshore protections, rather as his order on national monuments not so subtly tees up an anti-conservation agenda onshore.

This move has failure written all over it. It won’t succeed in creating energy security: oil from far offshore in undeveloped oceans takes decades to get to the pump. And what would be a less secure energy source, even then, than rigs out in stormy seas, including the icy, remote, wind-whipped Arctic?

It won’t succeed, even then, on the jobs front either. Safe seas, clean coasts, and healthy marine life are a huge source of employment. That’s why groups representing 35,000 businesses along the Atlantic coast oppose all drilling there.  And/or oppose oil industry seismic surveys that blast whales, sport and commercial fisheries, and other sensitive creatures with massive airgun arrays.

Okay, it could be a success—if Trump wants to drive his favorability numbers down even further. Americans don’t like having their oceans put at risk from industrial energy development, development that we don’t need and can’t benefit from. In a poll last fall, for instance, by a gaping 23-point margin voters thought President Obama should protect all federal waters off the Arctic and Atlantic coasts from drilling. That is an opinion gulf. Across party affiliations.

And, technically speaking, it may succeed in giving a cabinet Trump’s stocked with oil industry allies carte blanche to help out their buddies. Succeed, eventually, in generating the kind of exploration that created the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and could oil the entire Arctic coast. Perhaps it’ll succeed in discouraging clean energy investment that is essential to stemming global warming, climate disruption, and rising sea levels (even though solar power is now the cheapest source of new energy). Maybe it'll succeed in preventing a federal land grab of federal waters. Oh, wait, that’s literally impossible—the American public already owns them.

What it won’t be is any kind of feather in the President’s tattered 100-day cap.

About the Authors

Niel Lawrence

Alaska Director and Senior Attorney, Land & Wildlife Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.