Trump signs order to reverse Obama’s ban on Arctic drilling

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U.S. President Donald Trump displays an Executive Order on
U.S. President Donald Trump displays an Executive Order on “Offshore Energy Strategy” at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 28, 2017. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

On the eve of his 100th day in the White House, President Trump signed an executive order Friday intended to let energy companies drill for oil in currently protected areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.

The move was swiftly condemned by environmentalists, but Trump hailed it as a victory for the economy.

“This is a great day for American workers and families. And today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs,” Trump said, before signing the order.

So far, Trump’s energy policies have aimed at reversing the plentiful environmental protections established by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

In the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Trump said the United States is blessed with wonderful natural resources, including offshore oil and natural gas reserves, which can be harnessed to stimulate energy production and job growth. He said the federal government has closed off 94 percent of these offshore areas, preventing potential energy production.

“And when they say closed, they mean closed. This deprives our country of potentially thousands and thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in wealth. I pledged to take action and today I am keeping that promise,” he said.

Trump’s signing of the “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy” comes a day before the People’s Climate March, an international protest against Trump’s energy and environmental policies. The flagship march in Washington, D.C., and the more than 300 affiliated marchers across the globe, are expected to draw thousands. Though similar to last week’s March for Science, the march on Saturday will focus on Trump’s efforts to remove regulations intended to protect the environment and curb climate change rather than scientific integrity.

According to Trump, the new executive order begins the process of opening many offshore areas to “job-creating energy exploration” and rescinds the Obama administration’s permanent protection of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans.

A month before leaving office, Obama banned offshore drilling in nearly all of the Arctic under U.S. control to protect marine life and prevent potential oil spills. He also declared portions of the Atlantic Ocean unsuitable for drilling. Obama relied upon a little-known 1953 law that allows the president to ban oil and gas drilling indefinitely in U.S. waters.

At the time, an Obama administration official suggested that Trump would not be able to reverse the ban without an act from Congress because of its “strong legal basis.”

On Thursday night, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke briefed the press on the content’s of the executive order. He said it would direct the Interior and Commerce Departments to review offshore drilling and gas regulations in protected areas.

As expected, the response to Trump’s executive order from the environmental community was swift and harsh. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, released a statement saying that millions of Americans concerned about the dangers of offshore drilling will not be drowned out, regardless of the oil lobby’s influence over Trump.

“Just as he has throughout his 99 days in office, Donald Trump will fail in this attempt to destroy our beaches and coastal communities. The people have been heard and will continue to be heard,” Brune said.

Greenpeace USA’s senior climate and energy campaigner Diana Best also released a statement condemning Trump’s executive order. She said that renewable energy has already set the U.S. on course for energy independence and that offshore oil and gas drilling will condemn the nation to decades more of pollution.

“This executive order from the Trump administration is just the latest in a series of attempted rollbacks that most people in this country do not want, and only come at the behest of Trump’s inner circle of desperate fossil-fuel executives,” Best said. “Holing up at Mar-a-lago may protect Trump from an oil spill, but it will not protect him and his cabinet of one percenters from the millions of people in this country — from California to North Carolina — who will resist his disastrous policies.”

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