An ongoing partial government shutdown poised to enter its fourth week has seemingly stalled President Donald Trump’s controversial efforts to open virtually all U.S. waters to oil and gas drilling.
Putting the brakes on a much-maligned offshore drilling plan has emerged as a self-defeating byproduct of the president’s shutdown over funding for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. While experts largely agree that the shutdown is unlikely to change the Trump administration’s plans to swiftly roll out its planned leasing program in U.S. waters, some say the shutdown has definitely slowed the effort and allowed drilling opponents to gain ground.
“What we know from previous experience with the Obama administration and even administrations before that… is that this process takes a while,” explained Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We would be expecting a proposed program in about March. But from where we are right now, the shutdown seems to be slowing them down.”
A year ago, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to open up nearly all federal waters to drilling including the entirety of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. An accompanying five-year leasing plan would auction off drilling rights in parts of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) from 2019 to 2024.
That plan met with heated controversy almost immediately. All governors on both the East and West Coast announced their opposition regardless of party affiliation with the exception of Maine’s then-Gov. Paul LePage (R).
Sen. Rick Scott (R), then governor of Florida, also sought and was granted an exemption from Zinke, to the consternation of other states like New Jersey; New Jersey has since sued over a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking more information about Florida’s exemption. The state has also introduced its own offshore drilling ban.
For months, the Trump administration plan sailed ahead despite the massive pushback and anger from coastal Democrats and Republicans alike. But the shutdown has hit the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) hard, along with many other U.S. agencies, making it challenging to ascertain the status of the OCS plans.