Just over nine years ago, a blowout at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and caused the worst marine oil disaster in history. I was so new at the Sierra Club that the catastrophe was the first issue I wrote about here. I never imagined that, nearly a decade later, we’d be up against an administration that was recklessly* determined to expand offshore drilling (and all drilling, for that matter) absolutely everywhere.
But then, nobody imagined that someone like Donald Trump could be in the White House. And yet, there he is, hunched over a nonsecure cellphone, mendaciously tapping out his trollish tweets. Now no place in America that isn’t a Trump-owned golf course is safe from oil and gas development. It’s enough to make you nostalgic for the days when it was Norwaythat needed calling out on drilling. (Norway’s politicians, happily, now seem to be coming to their senses. Could that have something to do with a certain young Nobel Peace Prize nominee?)
The good news is that we’re winning this fight — and Team Trump knows it. David Bernhardt, the newly installed and ethically dubitable head of the Interior Department, has reluctantly announced a suspension of the administration’s offshore drilling plan for 2019–2024. This didn’t happen because Bernhardt had a change of heart. It happened because a federal judge ruled that Trump exceeded his authority by issuing an executive order to overturn President Obama’s permanent ban on drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. The Trump administration will likely appeal that decision, but time is running out for them to resolve this before Trump has to face reelection.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped Bernhardt from plowing ahead with permits for oil companies to conduct seismic testing that would devastate wildlife like the endangered North Atlantic right whale (so much for the “has-a-heart” supposition).
It’s not just legal setbacks that are working against Trump’s dream to drill everywhere, though. Offshore drilling is political poison, with strong bipartisan opposition, particularly in coastal states, including some, such as Florida and North Carolina, that Trump can’t afford to lose if he hopes to serve a second term. Not only do people remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but they are also far more aware now than a decade ago of how important it is to keep fossil fuels in the ground to deal with the climate crisis. Climate change may not be a priority at the Trump EPA, but it is for voters — to the point where even some Republicans in Congress have begun to take notice. And for the first time ever, voters registered as Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents have identified climate change as their top issue, ahead of even universal health care or gun control.
Trump and his fossil fuel faction are straining hard against the tide of history, and their time is running out.
*Here’s a fresh example: In order to save the oil industry about $824 million over 10 years, the Interior Department just announced that it wants to roll back the offshore-drilling safety regulations put in place after the Deepwater Horizon explosion.