WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump has moved to bar offshore oil and gas drilling in parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, a rare action against the fossil fuel industry from an administration that has made global energy dominance a priority.
The order drew skepticism from environmentalists and disappointment from the oil and gas industry, but approval from Republicans in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina who have opposed drilling off their state coasts.
Florida especially is considered critical to deciding November's presidential election. Polls there find Trump in an extremely close race with his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
The memorandum Trump signed in Florida on Tuesday adds 10 years to an existing ban on drilling off Florida's Gulf coast set to end in 2022. It extends the ban to the South Atlantic off Georgia and South Carolina.
"This protects your beautiful Gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come," Trump said.
Extending the moratorium is "the wrong approach at the wrong time," says Lem Smith, vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry trade group.
“A ban on responsible energy development in the Eastern Gulf and the South Atlantic puts at risk hundreds of thousands of new jobs, U.S. energy security advancements and billions of dollars in critical revenue for states," Smith said in a statement.
The Trump administration had previously aimed to open more than 90% of U.S. coastal waters to fossil fuel development. But those plans faced political opposition, including from the Republican governors of all three southern U.S. states covered by the new executive memorandum.
“This is a transparent attempt to manipulate Floridians two months before Election Day," said Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund and former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama.
"If President Trump wanted to protect the state’s beaches and waters from destruction, he would deep-six [dispose of] his five-year leasing plan to open up every coast in the country for drilling," McCarthy said. "And he would stop doing everything in his power to make the climate crisis worse."
The Trump administration has weakened regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and vehicles. It has changed how the federal government calculates the impacts of those emissions, lowering the apparent benefits of climate regulations.
The United States under President Trump is the only country in the world to announce plans to withdraw from the U.N.-brokered Paris agreement on climate change.
The administration also has taken steps to loosen rules on mercury, methane and other pollutants with the aim of lowering regulatory burdens on industry.
The New York Times tallies a total of 100 environmental rules the Trump administration has or is working to roll back.
Many of these face legal challenges, including the administration's attempts to encourage more offshore oil and gas development.
Shortly after taking office, Trump issued an executive order that lifted the Obama administration's ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic and North Atlantic. A federal court in Alaska threw out that order last March. The administration's offshore drilling plans have been in limbo ever since.
Trump described himself as "the great environmentalist" at Tuesday’s Florida signing event. The White House released a statement promoting Trump's environmental record, including cleaning up hazardous waste sites and funding improvements in drinking water infrastructure. Trump's signature on the Great American Outdoors Act is "the single largest investment in America’s National Parks and public lands in history," according to the White House.
"President Trump’s policies are promoting economic growth, while still maintaining standards that allow Americans to have among the cleanest air and water in the world," the statement said.
Trump's new offshore drilling ban drew criticism from Democratic presidential candidate Biden, who noted Trump's previous plans to expand oil and gas development off Florida's coast.
"Now, with 56 days until the election, he conveniently says that he changed his mind. Unbelievable," Biden wrote on Twitter.
"You don't have to guess where I stand: I oppose new offshore drilling," he added.
Just months ago, Donald Trump was planning to allow oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 8, 2020
Now, with 56 days until the election, he conveniently says that he changed his mind. Unbelievable.
You don't have to guess where I stand: I oppose new offshore drilling. https://t.co/oxfQNIymBh