WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump used a trip to Florida on Tuesday to propose a 10-year extension of a moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, as he visits a state critical to his reelection hopes.
Trump has supported expanded oil and gas development in other places, but the moratorium in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico that stretches roughly 125 miles off shore is popular with coastal Florida businesses, residents and voters in a state where tourism is the largest industry.
The president signed a presidential order designed to extend the moratorium, which is set to expire in 2022, for 10 years and expand it to include drilling off the coasts of Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.
“It’s an order that does so much for the state of Florida. It’s an order that I’m so proud to sign,” Trump said. “And this protects your, your beautiful Gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come.”
Despite the 10-year extension,Trump’s order – like all presidential directives – does not bind future administrations. He can direct his administration not to sell leases in certain parts of the country but anti-drilling advocates want a law that protects Florida’s coastline from drilling regardless of who’s in the White House.
In September 2019, the Democrat-led House voted 248 to 180 to pass a bill sponsored by Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fl., to make permanent the moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The Republican-controlled Senate has yet to take it up.
Trump told a crowd at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum he was there to “celebrate our incredible record of natural conservation and environmental protection over the last four years.”
The legislative moratorium on selling new oil and gas leases in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is set to expire in 2022, unless Congress extends it. Several efforts by oil and gas interests to open it up over the years have not gained much traction on Capitol Hill.
Florida, which has 29 electoral votes, is likely a must-win state for Trump, who is now a full-time resident of the Sunshine State.
A new NBC News/Marist poll shows Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden deadlocked with 48% from likely voters.
The day after Labor Day was as much about campaigning as policy.
On his way back to the White House, Trump plans to stop off in Winston-Salem, N.C., for an airport rally in another battleground state.
Before boarding Air force One, Trump told reporters more trips like today’s are in the offing as the Nov. 3 election draws near.
“We’re going to Florida. We’re going to North Carolina. We’re doing a double stop. We’ll be doing some triples along the way, but right now we’re, sort of, in the earlier stages,” he said.
In a statement on Trump’s visit to Florida, Biden assailed Trump’s over environmental record by noting that he has opened up thousands of acres of lands to new oil and gas drilling.
“Trump has called the climate crisis a ‘hoax,'” Biden said. “He has eliminated rules designed to keep our air and water clean.”
Biden has said he opposes new permits for oil and gas drilling in federal land and waters.
The former vice president also took a shot at Trump’s record on managing the COVID-19 pandemic, saying Florida also has seen “more than 11,000 deaths, 600,000 cases, and 3.6 million workers across the state who have filed for unemployment benefits since March.”
The president attacked Biden, who he said would “take away our energy independence” and cause energy prices to skyrocket. Trump said Biden and Democrats use environmental policy as “an excuse to advance a socialist platform.”
“The contrast between our vision and the radical left has never been more clear,” he said. “They talk a big game and they do nothing.”
In general, Trump is a supporter of expanding energy development, including oil and gas.
In 2018, he proposed to open up 90% of the Outer Continental Shelf off the U.S. coast to oil and gas exploration. But within a week, the Trump administration took Florida off the list following a 20-minute meeting then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had with then-Gov. Rick Scott at a Tallahassee airport.
Democrats blasted the move as political gamesmanship to help Scott, who was widely expected at the time to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson later that year. Scott, a Trump confidant, narrowly defeated the three-term Democrat.
Last year, the Trump administration announced rollbacks to offshore drilling safety rules created after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf, the worst offshore oil disaster in U.S. history.
And just last month, the Trump administration said it would begin auctioning off leases for oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a potential first-of-its-kind opening of the pristine wilderness that is being challenged in court.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster praised the president’s order but warned that “we must remain vigilant in the conservation and preservation of our coastline.” McMaster, a Trump ally, was opposed to Trump’s initial drilling exploration 2018 expansion plans.
“South Carolina is blessed with the most beautiful and pristine beaches, sea islands, and marshes in the nation,” McMaster tweeted. “Seismic testing and offshore drilling threatens their health and jeopardizes the future of our state’s $24 billion tourism industry.”
Krista Wright – executive director of Polar Bears International, a science-based organization dedicated to polar bears and Arctic sea ice – said Trump’s support of the Gulf of Mexico moratorium is “likely a gesture fueled by political ambition,” but they’ll take it.
Trump should do more, she added: “If the President is serious about conservation he should reverse all the catastrophic de-regulation and handouts to industry that come at the expense of our global health.”
Diane Hoskins, campaign director for Oceana Action, a group dedicated to protecting oceans, said Trump’s message “sounds more like political speech than a move toward permanent protection.”
Florida Democrats said Trump’s overall environmental record is what counts, and it is a poor one.
“He is the only, and I want to stress this, the only president in the United States history to have removed more public lands than he has protected,” said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla.
Contributing: Ledyard King