At a speech in Miami the week before the election, Donald Trump pledged to eliminate funds for fighting global warming and “use that money to support America’s vital environmental infrastructure and natural resources.”
That includes protecting the Everglades and restoring the dike around Lake Okeechobee, he told a crowd at the city’s Bayfront Park.
Environmentalists took some reassurance from the president-elect’s promise to continue restoring the Everglades, which enjoys bipartisan support and represents the kind of job-creating public works projects Trump supports. But they say his policies on climate change, oil drilling and business regulation could have disastrous consequences for Florida.
“Everyone who cares about the environment has every reason to be worried,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. “It will now be easy for Congress to pass legislation allowing oil drilling off Florida’s coasts. Drilling in the Everglades is already possible. Everglades restoration – my guess is the funding for that will probably continue. Florida is seriously threatened by sea level rise. Florida’s in trouble if we don’t reverse the effects of climate change.”
Trump enjoyed considerable support in South Florida’s large hunting and fishing community, however, where issues of gun control and public access to federal land and waters are important.
“The need for inexpensive energy to fuel a growing economy will put a stop to federal interference in developing resources needed to make the U.S. energy independent,” said Newton Cook, executive director of the duck hunting group United Waterfowlers of Florida. “That includes South Florida where there are legal oil leases. Trump will support the long-standing Everglades restoration program as it is supported by Gov. Scott….There is no negative for the Everglades in Trump’s victory. The climate change issue will be simply ignored as poor science and left-wing political agendas.”
Despite the widespread acceptance among scientists of the reality of human-caused global warming, Trump has called it a hoax invented by the Chinese. He has appointed a prominent climate-change denier, Myron Ebell, as head of his environmental transition team.
He has promised to scrap President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the president’s initiative to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. And he has promised to expand opportunities to drill for oil and gas, saying they will generate jobs and free the nation from reliance on foreign supplies.
“Rather than continuing the current path to undermine and block America’s fossil fuel producers, the Trump Administration will encourage the production of these resources by opening onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters,” states Trump’s new president-elect web site. “We will streamline the permitting process for all energy projects, including the billions of dollars in projects held up by President Obama, and rescind the job-destroying executive actions under his Administration.”
Two proposals are pending to explore for oil in South Florida, one in the west Broward Everglades, the other at Big Cypress National Preserve. The National Park Service has already approved the Big Cypress plan, although environmental groups have sued to stop it. The Broward proposal is awaiting state and federal permits.
While Trump has made clear his support for opening up land to oil drilling, it’s unclear how much of a break this would mark from the Obama administration in South Florida.
“We’re right now suing the Park Service over the decision to allow oil exploration at Big Cypress,” said John Adornato, South Florida director of the National Parks Conservation Association. “And this is a Democratic administration.”
Although no one is talking about drilling for oil off the South Florida coast, there has been talk of expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or farther up the Atlantic coast.
“We have not gotten a clear indication of President-elect Trump’s position on expanding offshore drilling into the Atlantic, including off the coast of Florida, said Jacqueline Savitz, vice president of the conservation group Oceana. “We hope he will recognize that offshore drilling is an extremely risky proposition, and in fact a bad business decision both for the companies involved and for the U.S. government itself.”
Trump appears likely to come down on the side of hunters and fishermen on some of the most contentious environmental issues in Florida.
Hunters successfully pressed the state to reopen bear hunting last year, although they lost on the same issue this year. They have fought attempts to limit access to Big Cypress National Preserve. Recreational fishing groups have engaged in fights over fishing quotas and access to federal waters, from red snapper catch limits in the Gulf of Mexico to an attempt by Biscayne National Park to establish no-fishing zones to protect snapper, grouper and other fish whose numbers are dwindling.
“He praised and endorsed his sons’ trophy hunting in Africa,” said Frank Jackalone, Florida organizing director for the Sierra Club. “We know Florida hunters have been pushing to hunt panthers and already for black bears.”
But supporters of public access to federal land say the president-elect will restore fairness to a system that had shut the public out of the very land and water that belongs to them.
“The days of the environmental zealots running the show are, for the most part, over,” said Jim Donofrio, executive director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance “I think we’ll start to see a more balanced approach between access to our resources, responsible stewardship, and common-sense conservation.”