Anti-drilling advocates call for continued activism
The response from offshore drilling opponents to the Trump Administration’s decision to delay its plans to aggressively pursue drilling in the Atlantic waters can be best described as a very wary welcome.
“It’s exciting news to hear, however I want to tell folks to be very cautious about this and stay focused and stay the course,” said Dare County Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard. “Because I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this.”
While noting that he “totally did not see this one coming,” the sudden news of the delay is “all well and good,” said Randy Sturgill, senior campaign organizer for Oceana in the Southeastern U.S. “But talk is cheap.”
"While a delay is good news, it’s clear that this administration still has an ultimate goal to open additional waters to offshore drilling, including the North Carolina coast,” said a statement from Jamal Little, spokesperson for North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. “We’ll continue to fight to protect our waters, beaches, and coastal communities from this short sighted and potentially catastrophic plan.”
And Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon used a sports analogy to describe his reaction to the delay. “You can go get a beer,” he offered. “But don’t leave the game.”
The latest development seemed to come as a surprise last week when U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, in a Wall Street Journal interview, indicated that the administration was going to wait for the outcome of the legal process surrounding its drilling policy. Earlier this year, a federal judge in Alaska threw a monkey wrench into the Trump Administration’s energy policy by ruling that it could not unilaterally upend previous bans on offshore drilling.
In a statement provided to the Sentinel, the U.S. Interior Department said that, “Given the recent court decision, the Department is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the President.”
Trump’s desire to push ahead with aggressive offshore drilling and overturn Obama Administration restrictions on it became apparent shortly after he took office. In April 2017, he signed an executive order for his “America-First Offshore Energy Strategy," declaring that, "Today we're unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs.”
Anti-drilling forces responded to that announcement by saying they were gearing up for another round of what they called "the battle for the Atlantic.”
And, while Sturgill is not sure what to make of the administration’s new position, he does think it reflects pressure on the White House that is the result of growing bi-partisan opposition to offshore drilling, as well as an indication that, “We’re winning the battle for the Atlantic. This is a tsunami coming at the White House, not from the environmentalists, but from people in his own party,” he asserted.
Indeed, a story in the online publication Politico headlined, “Drilling pause could help Trump in 2020,” suggested that, given the opposition to drilling in the Atlantic Ocean from voters and Republican politicians, the decision to delay drilling “will likely rid the president of some 2020 headaches.”
In responding to that decision, Surfrider Foundation Environmental Director Pete Stauffer asserted in a statement that “offshore drilling is wildly unpopular across the country as members of both political parties are overwhelmingly opposed to new oil and gas development off our coasts.” The organization also called on the Trump administration to “officially cancel plans to revise the 5-year offshore drilling program."
And in its response, the North Carolina Coastal Federation joined other environmental advocates in sounding a continued call to arms.
“Remember, to postpone something just means that it will take place at a time later than first scheduled,” it stated. “Time is the ultimate gift of this news. Time to continue to demonstrate opposition to offshore drilling in the Atlantic. Time to call your state and federal representatives to express concerns about the detrimental impacts offshore oil and gas exploration and seismic surveying would have if permitted along the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf…”
“When this [drilling push] comes back, as I feel it inevitably will,” said Ben Cahoon, voicing similar sentiments, “be ready to charge the hill.”