President Donald Trump is expected to vastly widen attempts to find more fossil fuels within U.S. boundaries -- efforts that may include an increase in offshore drilling.
On April 26, Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review national monuments designated by previous presidents under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The review will explore the potential of rolling back the borders of protected lands and opening them to drilling, mining and logging, according to the New York Times.
But Trump is likely to go even further on April 28, when he is expected to sign another executive order to lift restrictions in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans for offshore drilling.
"This administration has made it clear that they're going to do the bidding of the oil and gas industry," said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, a Colorado-based conservation group, according to Politico.
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Shortly before leaving office in January, President Obama put in place severe restrictions on offshore drilling in those areas that were intended to last until 2022. But Trump's order will direct Zinke to find a way to work around those restrictions.
However, The New York Times reports that any attempt to undo Obama's restrictions will likely result in legal challenges that could take years. That's because Obama implemented a little-known provision in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, a 1953 law which was used because it gives presidents unilateral power to protect areas of water. It had been used in the past by other presidents, but only for short periods of time.
"It’s never been done before," Patrick Parenteau, a professor of environmental law at Vermont Law School, told The New York Times soon after Obama's order was signed. "There is no case law on this. It’s uncharted waters."
Trump's executive order could lead to drilling off the coast of California, which drew concern from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.
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"New oil drilling along our coasts is unnecessary and dangerous," Feinstein said, according to Bloomberg. "There’s no reason to expose more coastal economies to the risk of disastrous spills so oil companies can drill for hard-to-reach fossil fuels. Rather than signing reckless executive orders, the president should focus on investing in safer, cleaner energy sources."
Mike LeVine, senior Pacific counsel for the conservation group Oceana, also said such a move would be unpopular and potentially dangerous.
"It is very clear that the communities on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts don’t want and don’t need offshore leasing or drilling," LeVine said. "It is equally clear that President Trump is prioritizing politics and corporate interests ahead of our coastal communities and good stewardship of our ocean resources."