WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is re-opening for oil exploration areas that President Barack Obama had closed, a move that environmental groups have promised to fight.
In an executive order Friday, the president reversed the Obama administration's decision to prohibit oil and gas drilling in the Arctic waters off Alaska.
The order also instructs the Interior Department to review current restrictions on energy development in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. In addition, it bars the creation or expansion of marine sanctuaries and orders a review of all areas protected within the last 10 years.
Trump cites advantages
The White House says 90 billion barrels of oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are buried off the U.S. coastline, but 94 percent of the area is off limits.
“Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs and make America more secure and far more energy independent,” Trump said at a signing ceremony at the White House.
The action is the latest from the Trump administration aimed at boosting domestic energy production and loosening environmental regulations.
In his first 100 days, Trump has relaxed coal mine pollution rules and ordered a review of vehicle efficiency standards and power plant greenhouse gas rules. His administration has stopped defending Obama-era pollution regulations challenged in court.
The energy industry has cheered the moves. Environmental groups have promised strong opposition.
Conservationists have long opposed oil drilling in the Arctic. A spill would devastate the region's fragile ecosystems, they say, while extreme conditions raise the risks of a spill and make cleanup harder.
Fishing and tourism on the Atlantic coast and Gulf of Mexico would suffer from an accident, too, environmentalists note.
“By his actions today, President Trump has sent a clear message that he prioritizes the oil and gas industry over the needs of working Americans in our coastal communities who depend on healthy fishing and tourism economies for their livelihoods,” Environmental Defense Fund Vice President Elizabeth Thompson said in a statement.
Reviewing and rewriting the current offshore drilling plans are expected to take several years. Environmental groups plan legal challenges to the changes.