The Trump administration proposed Thursday opening up almost all U.S. federal waters for oil and natural gas drilling, offering a record number of offshore lease sales.
The draft proposal would allow offshore drilling for crude oil and natural gas on the Atlantic Coast and in the Arctic, reversing the Obama’s administration’s block in those areas. It also permits drilling along the Pacific Coast as well as more possibilities in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We are embarking on a new path committed to energy dominance in America,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters Thursday. “This is a clear difference between energy weakness and energy dominance. We are going to become the strongest energy superpower.”
Under the plan, more than 90 percent of the total acres on the Outer Continental Shelf would be made available for leasing. Zinke said 25 of 26 offshore areas could be leased. Alaska's North Aleutian Basin is not included because an executive order by President George W. Bush did not allow leasing there.
The plan would span the years 2019 to 2024, replacing the Obama administration plan that ends in 2022.
Zinke said the Interior Department has identified 47 potential lease sales, including 19 off the Alaska coast, 12 off the Gulf of Mexico, seven in the Pacific and nine off the Atlantic coast.
By comparison, the Obama administration offered 11 lease sales in its five-year plan, Zinke said. President Barack Obama in his last days in office shielded from drilling more than 100 million offshore acres along the Arctic and Eastern Seaboard.
The Trump administration's announcement of the draft proposal opens up a 60-day public comment period for states, communities and other stakeholders to weigh in, before the Interior Department makes a final plan.
Zinke's plan was quickly met with bipartisan opposition among state leaders and Congress, including from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, an ally of President Trump, and Sen. Marco Rubio, who worry about the risk of spills. There is a moratorium on offshore drilling along the state's Gulf Coast until June 30, 2022.
Scott on Thursday said he opposes offshore drilling in Florida waters and plans to meet with Zinke to discuss his concerns.
“I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” Scott said. “My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.”
Rubio backed that concern: "I urge Secretary Zinke to recognize the Florida congressional delegation’s bipartisan efforts to maintain and extend the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and remove this area for future planning purposes.”
Zinke, in response, emphasized the draft leasing plan is not final and subject to change. He said he plans to meet with Scott and other stakeholders in the coming months.
“This is the beginning,” Zinke said. “We are saying, this is what’s available. At the end of the day, we will listen to the voices of communities and all stakeholders. I look forward to dialogue with Gov. Scott. We are sensitive to the needs of Florida and that coastline, which is heavily driven by tourism. Certainty Florida is going to have a say.”
The Interior secretary said he already has had a “long dialogue” about drilling off the coast of Florida with the Pentagon. There is a strong military presence in the eastern Gulf, and the Pentagon has opposed drilling in the past.