Trump administration seeks to expand offshore drilling to some federal waters

PHOTO: The oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer is towed toward a dock in Elliott Bay in Seattle. PlayElaine Thompson/AP Photo
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The Trump administration is seeking the largest sale of leases for offshore drilling ever proposed Thursday, with 90 percent of coastal areas opened for offshore drilling.

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The Interior department announced Thursday that almost all coastal areas under federal control will be opened for offshore drilling under this plan, including the Gulf of Mexico, areas off the East Coast, California, and Alaska.

The only area excluded from the plan is the North Aleutian Basin in Alaska, which was withdrawn from leasing in an executive order from President Barack Obama in 2014. The administration also does not offer leases in areas designated as marine sanctuaries, according to Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kate MacGregor.

Thursday's announcement follows an executive order signed by the president in April calling for the Interior Department to look into expanding oil and gas lease sales as part of an "America-first Offshore Energy Strategy." That executive order also revoked an executive order signed by President Obama in 2016 that removed areas of the Bering Sea from leases for drilling.

PHOTO: This file photo taken on May 19, 2015 shows an offshore oil drilling at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California.Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
This file photo taken on May 19, 2015 shows an offshore oil drilling at Refugio State Beach in Goleta, California.

The Interior Department manages sales of leases to companies wanting to drill offshore for oil or gas through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The federal government controls the continental shelf starting three nautical miles from shore and extending out to 200 nautical miles in most areas.

No lease sales proposed in the plan announced Thursday would take place until 2019 and the plan would stay in place until 2024. The draft released today still has to go through a public comment process that could take months.

The proposal is a drastic shift from the plan put in place by the Obama administration and was to extend from 2017 to 2022. The only leases offered under that plan were in the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet area of Alaska.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that plan took 94 percent of the continental shelf offline.

But some states are already saying they don't want more drilling off their coasts. Florida's Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has already said he opposes the Trump administration's plan.

PHOTO: Aerial view of an oil production platform in the Gulf of Mexico.Corbis via Getty Images, FILE
Aerial view of an oil production platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

"I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration. My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected, which is why I proposed $1.7 billion for the environment in this year’s budget," Scott said in a statement Thursday.

Members of Florida's congressional delegation spoke out against the proposal today. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson called it an "assault on Florida's economy" in a statement and said he will do all he can to defeat it.

Zinke said he will meet with the governor and congressional delegations and that states will have a say in the determining the final plan. The department will prepare an environmental impact statement and hold public meetings on the proposal in addition to considering public comments posted to the federal register.

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