Trump claims environmental progress, but he's weakened rules

Image BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI  AFP via Getty Images

Image BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI AFP via Getty Images

Trump, a Republican, narrowly beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in Florida in 2016 and faces a tough race this year against Joe Biden.

The executive order, which would also expand the ban to Florida's Atlantic coast and to the coasts of Georgia and SC, was met with an unusual mix of disappointment from a drilling industry group and skepticism by environmentalists. An NBC/Marist poll on Tuesday showed Trump and Biden tied in Florida with each getting the support of 48 percent of likely voters.

"Trump is the great environmentalist", he added.

Environmental groups and former EPA chiefs from both parties have criticized Trump's environmental record. Trump has called the climate crisis a "hoax". The Trump administration has worked to expand USA oil and gas drilling but drilling off Florida has prompted fierce opposition by tourism, real estate and environmental interests.

The issue of offshore drilling has been a political hot potato for Trump.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster, a longtime Trump ally who has opposed the administration's drilling exploration expansion plans, applauded Tuesday's announcement as "good news" but warned "we must remain vigilant in the conservation and preservation of our coastline". The agency responded in January 2018 with a draft plan opening the door to selling drilling rights in more than 90% of USA coastal waters.

The Trump administration has spent much of its first term working to expand US oil and gas drilling and roll back Obama-era rules on pollution from fossil fuels.

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Offshore drilling is almost universally opposed by leaders in both political parties in Florida after tourism was heavily impacted following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.

The trip, Trump's 11th visit to Florida this year, according to deputy press secretary Judd Deere, was billed as outlining the administration's "continued conservation and environmental protection efforts in the region", citing the Great American Outdoors Act and "funding of countless environmental restoration projects".

"Offshore oil drilling is dirty and risky and Trump's message sounds more like political speech than a move toward permanent protection", said Diane Hoskins, a campaign director for Oceana Action.

"The coastal currents are different, the layout of where the geology is", Zinke had said.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday how Trump was moving to insulate the area from drilling. The existing moratorium covers the Gulf of Mexico, and Trump said the new one would also cover the Atlantic coast - a significant political concern in coastal states like Florida. Trump can not extend the existing eastern Gulf leasing ban without Congress. He withdrew the USA from the Paris Climate Accord, a global agreement meant to address the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Former President Dwight Eisenhower used the approach to protect coral reefs near Key Largo, Florida, in 1960, and former President George H.W. Bush did the same to block oil leasing along the West Coast, Northeast U.S. and southern Florida for a decade.

While interest in offshore drilling has waned with lackluster oil demand during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the order could be reversed by a future president. The Justice Department is now defending the move before a federal appeals court.

A congressionally passed offshore drilling moratorium protects Florida's gulf waters from offshore drilling until mid-2022. Energy companies already discovered a jackpot of natural gas roughly 30 years ago - at least 700 billion cubic feet and as much as 3 trillion cubic feet - in the Destin Dome, located about 25 miles south of Pensacola, Florida.

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