Trump Extends Offshore Drilling Ban to NC and VA AND Offshore Wind

Block Island Wind – The First US Offshore Wind Farm          Photo: Ionna22, Wikimedia CC

After reading the fine print, it turns out President  Trump’s memo issued over the weekend extending his 10-year offshore oil and gas drilling ban from Florida all the way up the East Coast to Virginia, contains a poison pill — it also bans offshore wind development. The Houston Chronicle and Politico reported yesterday that the Department of Interior, which oversees offshore energy development, has confirmed the ban. According to the Chronicle, existing offshore energy leases are not impacted by the orders, including existing wind farms planned off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina. The offshore wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts is also currently being blocked by the Trump Administration.

Why This Matters:  It is disappointing from both a climate change perspective, but also because the offshore wind farm leases were selling for hundreds of millions of dollars all of which would be paid to the government.  But these bans could imperil many planned offshore wind developments and the developers who were considering opportunities off the South Carolina coast as a way to provide more renewable power to the southeast U.S. Interestingly, the offshore oil and gas and wind industries have both criticized the President’s blatantly political and petulant move.

What The President’s Order Says

The language is clear, but it is easy to see why it was not obvious to those unaware of other leases beyond oil and gas. “This withdrawal prevents consideration of this area for any leasing for purposes of exploration, development, or production during the 10-year period beginning on July 1, 2022, and ending on June 30, 2032.”  Trump made these pledges under pressure from Governors in those states, which are important to his re-election bid. Florida and North Carolina are two of the most critical must-win “swing” states that Trump carried in 2016, but where he is neck and neck with Biden now.  In Florida, Bloomberg.com reports that “Polls show Trump’s skepticism of climate change and some of his rollbacks of environmental regulations are unpopular in the state.”  If the public knew of the broad reach of the orders, they might undercut some of the political benefit the President is seeking.

Erik Milito, president of the National Ocean Industries Association that represents offshore wind developers, told Bloomberg.com that “tens of thousands of additional jobs and billions of dollars of investment are expected through a prospective wind lease offshore the Carolinas” are at risk now.  And the public is overwhelmingly in favor of clean energy development and one of the reasons why is its potential for new, good-paying jobs as well as their climate benefits.

Joe Biden called out the blatant politics that President Trump is playing with this issue — until he needed a boost in the polls in Florida, the President was strongly in favor of offshore drilling and he has only banned it for the states that he needs to win.  Many other states also want a ban in their waters but he does not stand a chance in those states — like California and Oregon.  Biden has consistently opposed offshore oil and gas drilling and favors the development of renewable energy.  He tweeted after Trump’s original announcement “Just months ago, Donald Trump was planning to allow oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida. 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.”

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