By the South Florida Sun Sentinel Editorial Board
On Sept. 8, President Trump came to Jupiter and signed an executive order that he said would protect Florida from offshore drilling for 10 years. Trump added this laughable claim: “To my administration, environmental protection is a sacred obligation.”
Just three months earlier, Trump sounded more like the president who believes public lands are made for private exploitation.
In declaring June to be National Ocean Month, he noted that nearly 20 percent of the country’s oil and gas production comes from offshore sources. “There is great potential,” he said in his proclamation, “to bolster these numbers and expand this critical and profitable industry.”
A few days later, Politico reported that his administration was planning to expand offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but would wait until after the election “to avoid blowback.”
Politico quoted an energy industry representative as saying, “It’s a given that the new acreage will become available when the politics of reelection are behind (Trump.)”
But in Florida, opposition to increased offshore drilling unites Democrats and Republicans. With Trump needing to win the state, you can see why he pivoted. But his promise is worthless.
Current law prohibits drilling in the Gulf of Mexico closer than 125 miles to Florida. Companies can’t drill anywhere off our Atlantic Coast.
Former Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Mel Martinez, a Republican, negotiated the 2006 legislation that extended the Gulf of Mexico restriction until 2022. It has the force of law. Only Congress and the president could change it.
Trump’s executive order has no such power. If reelected, he could rescind or modify it at any time.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose office oversees federal lands, is a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industries. Estimates have placed the amount of recoverable oil now off-limits in the Gulf at 3.6 billion barrels and the amount of recoverable natural gas at 11.5 trillion cubic feet.
An industry executive told Politico that the Gulf’s untapped portions are “the prize acreage.” Once the moratorium expires, drilling could come as close as 10 miles to Florida, where state waters begin.
About three weeks after his staged event in Jupiter, Trump showed how he can tailor any policy message to please an audience. At a rally in Newport News, Va., he said he would extend the Atlantic offshore ban to North Carolina and Virginia, but added, “You don’t like it, you’re going to let me know, I’m going to change it. I can change things very easily.”
Indeed he can. Let’s look at all the other worthless promises Trump has made to Florida.
* He promised a better, cheaper alternative to the Affordable Care Act, which provides coverage to nearly two million Floridians – the most in any state. Yet as he tries to abolish the law through the courts, Trump has offered no replacement or said how he would protect people with preexisting conditions.
* He promised to pass gun control legislation in the wake of the February 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. He made that vow in the presence of U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who represents Parkland.
But after hearing from the National Rifle Association, Trump withdrew his support for gun control. His commission on school safety instead recommended that schools arm themselves.
* He promised a “bill of love” to protect Dreamers – immigrants whose parents brought them here when they were very young. Roughly 27,000 Dreamers live in Florida.
But no such bill has come from the administration. Instead, Trump went to the Supreme Court seeking to deport the Dreamers, who know no country but this one. Roughly 30,000 Dreamers work in health care, and some have treated COVID-19 patients.
The court ruled against Trump, but only for now. The administration plans to try again to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals protection President Obama enacted.
It’s baffling that Trump retains the support he has in Florida, given the damage he could cause the state in a second term. Expanded drilling could be a double whammy.
First, there’s the obvious threat to the state’s beaches, on which the tourism industry depends.
Oil from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill a decade ago came dangerously close to a current that would have brought the oil to South Florida. Trump also has weakened safety rules created after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy to prevent such spills.
Second, unlocking more fossil fuels would increase greenhouse gas emissions as global warming causes seas to rise. According to recent news reports, the real estate industry already is forecasting lower property values in Florida’s most vulnerable low-lying areas.
In August, the Trump administration announced that it would open 1.6 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Bernhardt said the program would be “carefully tailored” to minimize environmental damage. Right.
As many former investors know, Trump’s word means nothing. The only sure way to protect Florida from expanded oil drilling is to elect Joe Biden.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Dan Sweeney, Steve Bousquet and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.