Trump’s new ocean policy chooses plunder over protection

Trump’s new ocean policy chooses plunder over protection
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President TrumpDonald TrumpHead of firms that pushed 'Italygate' theory falsely claimed VA mansion was her home: report Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting VA moving to cover gender affirmation surgery through department health care MORE’s repeal of our National Ocean Policy makes it crystal clear that his administration views our oceans solely as a source of profits for the oil industry and other polluters.

He’s prioritizing the plunder of our seas over their protection.


Trump’s one-sided approach to our oceans was already clear. It was evident from his proposal to expand offshore oil drilling into all U.S. oceans, attempts to revoke protections for the Arctic and marine monuments, abandonment of the Paris climate accord, and ignoring legal obligations to protect West Coast orcas and other endangered marine species.


But his executive order to “ensure that Federal regulations and management decisions do not prevent productive and sustainable use of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters” strikes out ocean conservation and coastal protection.

Let’s be clear: This policy shift favors the fossil fuel and fishing industries over coastal communities that rely on clean seas. It pushes for the industrialization of our oceans and coastal areas instead of their wise stewardship and science-based management. It strips out science-based climate policies and instead promotes fossil fuel uses. 

Industrializing our oceans is exactly what we don’t need. Whales, sea turtles and other marine animals are already struggling against a long list of threats, including overfishing, plastic pollution, climate change, and the seismic blasting, toxic fracking chemicals, and oil spills that come with offshore drilling. 

Trump’s order repeals the conservation-focused ocean policy that the Obama administration enacted in 2010 after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. It chooses willful ignorance over learning lessons from that deadly tragedy.

The policy shift offered by Obama was a small, measured step away from the hands-off federal policies that allowed the fossil fuel industry and other coastal polluters to operate with little meaningful oversight and endanger the health and safety of the public and marine life. 

The Trump administration was already pursuing the repeal of offshore drilling safety regulations enacted as a direct result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Trump officials have also failed to complete legally-required biological assessments of Gulf of Mexico marine life, which still hasn’t recovered from that massive oil spill and the chemical dispersants used on it.

Our oceans are in real trouble. Protecting them is complicated. That’s why Obama’s National Ocean Policy required the federal government to consult with coastal states and tribes on how best to conserve ocean resources and regulate ocean industries.

Trump’s new policy ends that requirement, opting for top-down federal management by political appointees who have troubling ties to the fossil fuel industry.

So now, official U.S. ocean policy rolls back important advances that safeguard our natural heritage. And it ignores the lessons of Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdez, the massive Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, and countless other examples of the high cost of letting oil companies self-regulate.

Trump is turning the clock back to a time before we understood climate change, modern fishery management and how plastic pollution would keep accumulating in our oceans and harm marine life. 

Trump’s vision for making America great again has always been a dangerous delusion. It relies on ignoring the ugly underbelly of American industrial development. Now he’s made his own ignorance of ocean conservation the official U.S policy.

So it’s up to local governments and communities, states and tribes — it’s up to all of us — to save our oceans from Trump and his reckless refusal to regulate the extractive industries.  

Miyoko Sakashita is director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program.