The proposal has already received a lot of pushback from both sides of the aisle. Mitch Jones of Food & Water Watch says there’s still time to harness that widespread opposition and stop the expansion of extreme energy extraction before the policy change can take effect
DHARNA NOOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor joining you from Baltimore. This Thursday, the Trump administration announced a plan to allow offshore drilling of oil and gas in 90% of U.S. waters. The Department of the Interior’s five-year proposal would open up nearly a billion acres of the Atlantic Ocean and the eastern seaboard to drilling. It would also open 47 possible auctions for drilling rights.
Here to discuss all this is Mitch Jones. Mitch is a senior policy advocate at Food & Water Watch. Thanks so much for coming on today, Mitch.
MITCH JONES: Thanks for having me on.
DHARNA NOOR: What’s your initial reaction to this proposal? The plan includes areas in the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic, the eastern seaboard, expands areas in California and Florida where activists have been resisting expansions for decades. Actually, offshore drilling on California’s coast from being expanded for the first time in decades. What’s your response to all this?
MITCH JONES: Well, the first response is that it’s a completely absurd policy for the Trump administration to be pushing and we see that in the opposition that’s already come out against it but, at a time when we have recently gone through not only the catastrophic wildfires in California but, also the extreme weather events of the hurricanes that we experienced this summer and even possibly the current storm that’s striking New England and the upper East Coast, we’ve seen the devastating effects of climate change and so, any policy that is going to push the drilling, the expansion of drilling, and risky extreme drilling at that, for oil and gas in our waters is the exact opposite of any policy that we should be taking. Instead of expanding drilling and opening drilling up in places where it hasn’t happened for decades, we should be moving in the opposite direction and prohibiting it in all of our coastal waters.
DHARNA NOOR: Many have already pushed back against this proposal, again, including many Republican governors like Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Scott of Florida, our own governor, Larry Hogan of Maryland. Hogan actually directed Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to investigate a lawsuit. Is this surprising? Is this alliance surprising? Does this show that lots of Republicans are waking up to the effects of climate change or is something else going on?
MITCH JONES: I don’t know that it’s Republicans waking up to the effects of climate change so much as it’s Republicans waking up to the reality of the politics of offshore drilling and extreme energy extraction in general. In the case of Rick Scott, we know that he’s thinking about running for Senate in Florida against Senator Bill Nelson, who is a long-standing opponent of offshore drilling and has won a lot of plaudits in Florida and across the country for that opposition to offshore drilling.
In the case of Governor Hogan, we know that political pressure forced him earlier, last year now, to support a ban on fracking in Maryland and I believe that it’s that sort of political pressure that continues to work on these governors who … you know, Christie, obviously, is not facing another election but, Hogan is up for election this year. Rick Scott is trying to seek a Senate seat and I think that they know how to read polls, they recognize that the American public and especially the public in their own states do not support this move and they are taking the correct response because of the reality of the politics of the situation more than any real lasting concern about climate change.
DHARNA NOOR: Of course, some oil industry folks are fully in support of this proposal. Some have said that this would increase national energy security. It would ensure that the U.S. is an energy leader. Others have said, “Oh, it’s great that this will create thousands of new jobs.” What’s your response to all of this support?
MITCH JONES: Well, it’s not surprising, of course, that the oil and gas industry is ecstatic about the fact that the Trump administration has given them, yet again, another handout. We have to remember that it was just a few weeks ago that the Trump administration announced that they were going to roll back regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf that would protect oil-rig workers and also the environment from drilling disasters. It was just at Christmas when the tax bill was signed that the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge was opened up to drilling. Time and time again, the Trump administration and also the Republicans in Congress have shown their willingness to gift the oil and gas industry with these policy handouts. The oil and gas industry has wanted this change in policy for some time. Trump is happy to give it to them and I’m sure they are eager to try to get drilling.
The good news is that this policy change can’t happen overnight. There is probably 18 months before it could really take effect and folks could really start to get moving with drilling. And so we have plenty of time to harness that political opposition that we were just talking about to expanding offshore drilling and push the Congress to basically undo this move by the Trump administration. As you pointed out, a lot of Republican governors have come out opposed to this move. Some Republican senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida, have also come out against this move. And while it would be a heavy lift, we do have the time to organize, to build the political pressure that would be needed to try to force this Congress or the next Congress to act to undo this move. And in the meantime, the lawsuits that not only states like Maryland and New Jersey and Florida may be contemplating, but also the lawsuits that environmental organizations are contemplating, will be important in holding off this really bone-headed and disastrous move to expand extreme energy extraction in the United States.
DHARNA NOOR: For viewers who want to get involved, could you talk about what exactly Food & Water Watch or other organizations might have planned to do to stop this plan from moving forward?
MITCH JONES: It’s early days yet, so I think we’re still in the process of contemplating exactly what the next move really is but, the first thing you should do is reach out to your senator, reach out to your member of Congress and tell them that you’re opposed to this and you want Congress to take an act, to take action to stop it. You can … there are multiple ways to do that, you can always go to foodandwaterwatch.org to find out more about how to contact your member of Congress or you could always go to the house.gov and senate.gov websites and find out who your member is if you don’t know. Pick up the phone and call them and tell them that you oppose this move and you want Congress to act to stop it.
DHARNA NOOR: Alright, Mitch Jones of Food & Water Watch. Thank you so much for being with us today.
MITCH JONES: Thank you.
DHARNA NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.