President Donald Trump’s administration has shelved for the moment a plan to potentially open vast stretches of American waters, including off the coast of Virginia, to offshore oil drilling, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The announcement comes after a federal court decision that blocks drilling in the Arctic, setting up a long appeals process.
“By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, told the paper.
Numerous states and coastal communities have opposed plans to open up the Atlantic seaboard to drilling and the seismic testing that precedes the extraction.
Trump’s former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke famously stuck his foot in his mouth when he announced Florida would get exempted from the administration’s push to dramatically expand drilling shortly after the plan was announced because “Florida is unique.”
Those comments, which came as other states, including Virginia, were demanding to be kept out of the leasing program, opened the door wide for a legal challenge if Florida was indeed left out and other states were kept in, one environmental lawyer told me at the time.
“You’re supposed to have a considered, thorough decision-making process,” said Sierra Weaver, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Making any decision two days after the comment period starts is entirely inconsistent with that.”
After the report from the Journal Thursday, the SELC said the news was being met with “cautious enthusiasm by East Coast business leaders, conservation groups and hundreds of cities, towns and counties that have gone on-the-record to oppose the president’s plan to seek oil in the Atlantic Ocean.”
Weaver said she hoped “‘indefinitely delayed’ is Washington-speak for ‘never.’”
SELC’s Nat Mund, director of federal affairs, said in a statement that while Bernhardt may be tight with the oil industry, “he also recognizes the political reality of such an unpopular proposal.”