Trump Tries to Open Public Lands for Fossil Fuels
By Kate Galbo, Programs Manager
As the rest of us are gearing up for the People’s Climate March, President Trump is signing two executive orders this week that could pave the way for the opening of protected lands and waters to fossil fuel development. While the orders may seem monumental, they will likely have little impact on the rapidly growing clean energy market.
Reviewing the Antiquities Act
Trump signed an order on Wednesday that directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review areas designated as national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The Act, which protects tens of millions of acres of land, enables the President to designate federal areas of land and water as national monuments to protect from drilling, mining, and development. The order gives Zinke 45 days to file interim recommendations, and 120 days to issue his proposals for scaling down or revoking the status of monuments created under the Antiquities Act.
The move is largely seen as a response by the new administration to two controversial national monument designations made late in the Obama administration: the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, considered sacred to Native American tribes, and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada near the Bundy Ranch, site of the 2014 armed standoff over cattle grazing on public land.
It’s unclear what will result from Zinke’s report. What is clear, with the 100 day mark fast approaching, is Trump’s move to say he unraveled more “Obama-era restrictions”. Obama had used the Antiquities Act more than any other president when he designated over 1.6 million acres of land in Utah and Nevada as national monuments, protecting two areas rich in Native American artifacts from mining, oil and gas drilling.
Sixteen presidents – Republican and Democrat – have used the Antiquities Act to protect U.S. lands and waters, and while some have altered the size of monuments protected by their predecessors, none have tried to revoke their monument status entirely. Under the Act, only Congress, not the president, has the clear authority to nullify a designation. If the Trump Administration presses forward on its own, it will likely land in court.
Opening up protected waters to drilling
On Friday, Trump is expected to sign an order aimed to open up protected waters in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans to offshore drilling. In December, President Obama invoked a law to permanently ban offshore drilling in those waters, and he had previously banned drilling in the Arctic Ocean through 2022. Trump’s order, called the Executive Order Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy, directs the Interior Department to begin a review of restrictive drilling policies for the outer continental shelf.
While these executive orders may seem like a big win for the fossil fuel industry, they may have little impact. They will likely be held up in court for years and oil and gas companies may be hesitant to expand into costlier, riskier offshore drilling. The high cost and risks associated with offshore drilling have been well-cited since Deepwater Horizon, preventing large-scale investment. It does not make sense to invest in a practice that will not bring in significantly more oil and lower prices, while putting American lives at risk.
Trump is using this executive order spree to show he is fulfilling his campaign promise to expand drilling and create new jobs in the energy sector. But the administration cannot create jobs simply by signing a piece of paper if those jobs rely on economics and technology that is largely out of their control.
About the author: Kate Galbo joined CABA in September of 2015 after receiving a degree in Environmental Policy and Analysis from Boston University. Previously, she conducted research for Policy Studies Institute to help bridge the gap between sustainable development research and society. Kate has previously interned for other Massachusetts non-profit organizations. As Programs Manager, Kate focuses on engaging with our member businesses to take targeted policy action, achieve meaningful emissions reductions, and foster a sense of community.