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Earthjustice: Trump wasting his time with offshore lease proposal

Supporters of a new lease proposal that opens nearly all U.S. waters to drillers say it's necessary to keep up with the new U.S. energy times.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Earthjustice: Trump wasting his time with offshore lease proposal
The Trump administration is wasting its time with a proposal to drill in areas that were banned by the former president, an attorney for Earthjustice said. File photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Praised as a necessity by the industry, President Trump is wasting his time with some of the areas proposed for offshore drilling, an attorney said.

Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior for President Donald Trump, said Thursday that nearly all of the outer continental shelf would be open to drillers in the next five-year lease starting in 2019. Under the current lease plan, released by former President Barack Obama, the Trump administration said about 90 percent of the total acreage offshore was put off limits.

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The proposed program, now open for public comment, calls for 19 lease sales offshore Alaska, seven in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic.

Erik Grafe, an attorney for Earthjustice, told UPI that Trump is calling for leases in areas that Obama withdrew, notably in Arctic and Atlantic waters. Trump in April signed an order calling for a review of Obama's ban, though Earthjustice said the debate was still in the hands of the courts.

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According to Grafe, Trump doesn't have the authority to undo Obama's order because it was issued jointly with the Canadian government.

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"Proposing to schedule lease sales in these withdrawn areas, as this draft plan does, is thus inappropriate and a waste of time," he said.

In response to the lease plan announced by Zinke, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said the proposal allows the state to safely develop its natural resources as "we see fit."

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The government is vetting public comments on the draft proposal for the next 60 days, though the entire process could take more than a year. Zinke said Thursday, however, that more than 150 members of the House and Senate sent letters to the government in support of the proposed five-year lease plan.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the oil thirst from the Trump administration was reckless. In 1969, more than 100,000 barrels of oil were spilled offshore California and there's been no drilling there since the 1980s.

"The days of drilling for oil are numbered," she added, noting emerging trends for renewable energy resources.

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Industry figures show that oil and natural gas could account for about 75 percent of the global demand expected over the next 20 years. With the United States emerging as a dominant global exporter of oil and gas, tapping more offshore resources makes sense.

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"It is time for a truly national discussion about increasing our offshore energy capabilities," Randall Luthi, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association said in a statement.

For Atlantic states, however, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and state Attorney General Brian Frosh said they were opposed. Hogan issued a call for any legal claims, actions or suits against the federal government to prevent drilling off Maryland's coast.

Trump's executive order signed on April 28 called for federal lease sales to include new parts of the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and some of the Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska "as appropriate and consistent with applicable law."

Oliver Williams, a spokesman for the Arctic Energy Center, said last year that Trump's order was lawful and Obama's ban was flawed. There's no precedent for a permanent ban, he said after the April order.

According to a lawsuit led by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, however, it's unlawful to include areas banned by the former president.

"But even if totally legal, opening up new areas, such as the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, to destructive oil drilling is still a raw deal for people who live along those coasts and rely on the coastal economy," Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist with Greenpeace, told UPI.

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Excluded from the Trump proposal are Alaska's Bristol Bay, which former President George W. Bush protected, and existing marine sanctuaries. The plan doesn't allow drilling around Hawaii or U.S. territories.

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