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Offshore and Still on the Horizon, Part 2: President Trump’s Offshore Oil and Gas Leasing Plan

Monday, February 26, 2018
Jay Austin

Jay Austin

Senior Attorney; Editor-in-Chief, Environmental Law Reporter®

As readers of this blog know, a recent refrain in environmental law has been “can he do that?” – the ongoing reexamination of presidential and executive branch authority in light of a dizzying array of proposed reversals, revisions, and rescissions of existing policies and rules. At ELI, we’ve attempted to answer that question through our “Environmental Protection in the Trump Era” report, which will get updated later this spring. My own contributions have included the chapter on offshore oil and gas drilling, as well as a more detailed look at last April’s Executive Order 13795 on “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” which extends the new watchword of “energy dominance” to the outer continental shelf.

The Trump Administration's recent reversals of Obama-era restrictions on offshore oil and gas leasing have raised questions of executive authority (Photo: arbyreed/Flckr)i

On January 8 of this year, pursuant to the Executive Order and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management issued a draft proposed oil and gas leasing program for 2019-2024, intended to supersede the existing plan for 2017-2022. The new proposal would open up more than 90% of all outer continental shelf resources, including ending long-standing moratoria on drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and large portions of Alaska. It represents an outright reversal of the Obama-era plan, under which 94% of offshore acreage is presently off-limits.

A day after the proposal was released, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke tweeted that federal waters off of Florida would be “off the table,” following a meeting with Florida Governor Rick Scott. That announcement led to multiple requests from governors and lawmakers along both coasts, asking that their states also be removed from the plan. Later pressed on the Florida exemption, Secretary Zinke offered terse remarks about “coastal currents” and “geology.” His statements may or may not be reflected in the next version of the plan, but they immediately muddled the process and opened it to charges of politicization and to potential litigation.

Can he do that? I ventured an answer for the American Constitution Society, who asked about implications for the future of the leasing plan. You can read that update here.