“Today we’re embarking on a new path for energy dominance in America,” Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said during the announcement. The Interior Department would no longer “take a back seat” to energy policy, he said, as it did during the Obama administration.
President Donald Trump first promised “energy dominance” during a speech last June. The United States exported oil and gas at a record pace in 2017, but that seems less the result of Trump’s presidency than the ongoing fracking boom and the bipartisan lifting of the U.S. oil-export ban signed by President Barack Obama in 2015.
Last summer, 155 U.S. House members and senators sent letters to Zinke, asking him to open up new areas for oil and gas drilling. Many Republicans celebrated the offshore-drilling proposal as environmental groups promised to defeat it.
But opposition to the plan does not fall entirely along party lines. Rick Scott, the Republican governor of Florida, said that he opposed the proposal in a statement and that he had “asked to immediately meet” with Zinke. “My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected,” he said.
The state’s U.S. senators—Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat—joined Scott in promising to defeat the plan. So did Republican Congressmen Carlos Curbelo, whose district includes the Florida Keys, and Matt Gaetz, who once proposed shuttering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Republicans outside of Florida oppose the plan as well. “It’s not the time to reopen California’s shoreline to new drilling,” says Darrell Issa, a GOP congressman from San Diego County. “Californians have made themselves clear: They do not want new drilling off our coasts.”
Anticipating their concerns, Zinke said that the proposed plan only “lays out the options that are on the table.”
“Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks. The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American energy dominance,” he said.
But what areas are appropriate for drilling? For oil companies, conservation groups, local businesses, tourists—and, above all, for the people who live along the coast—that’s the most important question of all. The effort to shape which areas may get drilled for oil begins this month. Here’s what could happen next.
The plan unveiled this week is merely a first draft. If adopted, it would replace an older Obama-administration policy that closed off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. It would also reverse a “permanent ban” on drilling in the Atlantic continental shelf, which Obama issued in the final days of 2016.
“We’re at least a year away from a final plan being released,” says Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. Between now and then, Interior Department officials will hold public meetings in states bordering the continental shelf. Weaver said she was concerned that these meetings would be held in inland state capitals and not in the coastal towns and cities that would be most affected by a resumption of drilling.