In the wake of the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, President Obama announced an executive order designed to help safeguard the oceans. Naturally, President Trump has decided to dismantle it and replace it with a policy touting the benefits of offshore drilling.
In an executive order released Tuesday, Trump shifts the focus of the 2010 National Ocean Policy away from conservation and stewardship toward energy, national security, and economic growth. These shifting priorities will be addressed through coordinating federal efforts with state, local, and tribal agencies, but the devil’s in the details for how new policies get ironed out.
The language changes are striking, though. Stewardship, conservation, resiliency, climate change, and ocean acidification were all words that showed up in the Obama order. They’re all gone from Trump’s.
The whole purpose of the Obama era policy was to ensure that oceans remained healthy so that future generations could reap their many benefits. Here’s the purpose (emphasis added):
“...this order establishes a national policy to ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies, preserve our maritime heritage, support sustainable uses and access, provide for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change and ocean acidification, and coordinate with our national security and foreign policy interests.”
The Trump administration has decided to put that all by the wayside, instead focusing on economic benefits in the here and now, particularly when it comes to drilling. Here’s a portion of the new purpose (emphasis again added):
“The ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters of the United States are foundational to the economy, security, global competitiveness, and well-being of the United States. Ocean industries employ millions of Americans and support a strong national economy. Domestic energy production from Federal waters strengthens the Nation’s security and reduces reliance on imported energy.”
The Trump administration is in the midst of a deregulatory frenzy, including a push to open some 90 percent of U.S. coastal waters to offshore drilling. While rank and file Republicans support this idea, the policy has garnered major pushback from everyone from Republican governors to men and women of the cloth weren’t really feeling it. And with good reason.
When Obama signed off on his oceans policy, the nation was still reeling from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which covered Gulf of Mexico beaches and waters in a slick veneer of oil in 2010. Since then, BP has spent a whopping $65 billion to deal with the spill’s environmental and legal aftermath. The spill could cause up to $8.5 billion in damage to fisheries alone by 2020. It was and is still a nightmare for the Gulf Coast.
Jane Lunchenco, an ocean scientist who ran the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under Obama, told Science the change in policy amounts to “a shift from ‘use it without using it up’ to a very short-sighted and cavalier ‘use it aggressively and irresponsibly.’”
That’s unfortunate, because large parts of the ocean better protection now more than ever.