US coastal states work to block offshore drilling
Washington -- South Carolina, Georgia and Florida lawmakers are renewing a push to stop President Donald Trump's administration from allowing drilling off their shorelines.
Political leaders in the states, which are led by Republican governors and Republican-majority legislatures, are leaning on their political clout with the White House in hopes of being removed from a federal leasing plan that in a draft envisions oil and gas leasing on more than 90pc of federal waters.
If that effort fails, state officials are also laying the groundwork to stymie drilling through other means.
The pushback comes as the administration nears the release of an updated version of its offshore drilling plan. An earlier draft called for starting oil and gas leasing in the Atlantic next year and in areas the eastern Gulf now off-limits after June 2022. Trump has made his offshore plan a major part of his push for 'energy dominance' and increased domestic oil and gas production.
But state leaders worry opening their coastlines to drilling could harm their economy and impair their quality of life, through oil spills and the build-out of energy infrastructure in tourism-dependent coastal communities. So they are prodding the administration to look elsewhere for oil and gas, while attempting to tamp down industry interest by erecting new barriers to development.
South Carolina's state Senate, for example, last week voted to adopt a budget amendment that would block funding to state regulators from issuing approvals for offshore oil and gas development in the fiscal year starting 1 July. Governor Henry McMaster (R) supports the restriction, which could not stop drilling in federal waters but would block development of pipelines and other infrastructure up to three miles from the coastline.
South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson last month separately asked a federal judge for an injunction to block the start of seismic oil and gas testing in the Atlantic. The Trump administration on 22 April asked the judge to dismiss part of the state's request.
Florida lawmakers have lobbied the administration heavily to drop the state from the offshore plan. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) and Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) this week sponsored a bill to ban drilling. Senator Marco Rubio (D-Florida), who wants to extend a leasing ban in the eastern Gulf by five years until 2027, says he expects Florida will be excluded.
'I have spoken to Mr. Bernhardt & to [the White House] on this,' senator Marco Rubio (D-Florida) wrote on Twitter two weeks ago, referring to US interior secretary David Bernhardt. 'I am VERY confident that when all is said & done no oil drilling is coming to our coastline.'
Even earlier supporters of drilling in the Atlantic are reversing course. Representative Earl Carter (R-Georgia), who represents a district that includes all six of Georgia's coastal counties and once backed drilling, earlier this month said he now wants the administration to exclude the state from offshore development.
'While I will continue to be an ardent supporter of American energy independence, I believe that the will of our state and local communities must be respected in a decision of this magnitude,' he said in a 3 April letter to Bernhardt.
The US Interior Department was expected to publish its updated offshore leasing plan in January, but that timeline has slipped.
Bernhardt on 28 March testified that the agency was on 'step one, not step seven' with the leasing plan. But Walter Cruickshank, the acting director of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said earlier this month that it would be released in a matter of weeks.