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No, President Trump is not the 'environmental president'

No, President Trump is not the 'environmental president'
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At a campaign event in Florida earlier this month, President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinnesota certifies Biden victory Trump tells allies he plans to pardon Michael Flynn: report Republican John James concedes in Michigan Senate race MORE had the gall to tout his credentials as the “No. 1 environmental president.” Accompanying this claim was an announcement formally extending a 10-year moratorium on offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and, extending that moratorium to the waters off of Florida’s, Georgia’s and South Carolina’s coasts.

On its face, withdrawing these waters from offshore drilling is a good thing. Expansion of offshore oil drilling would invite spills, pollution and industrial blight to some of our country’s most iconic beach communities. This would be a death sentence for tourism, fishing and recreation industries that support hundreds of thousands of jobs and bring in billions of dollars of GDP every year.

The people who live in these communities understand this and have been vocally opposing Trump’s plans to expand drilling to nearly all U.S. waters for years. So why this announcement, for these three states, at this moment? 

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Is it because Trump decided to listen to the people of those states? Is it because he values coastal ecosystems and economies and the people who depend on them? Is it because he is indeed the “environmental president?”

To answer these questions, a look at his record on the environment is illuminating.

In 2017, Trump rejected the previous administration’s protections against dirty and dangerous offshore drilling. Instead, he proposed to radically expand drilling to nearly all U.S. waters, threatening jobs and revenue in clean coastal economies.

In 2018, he issued permits to use seismic airgun blasts off the Atlantic Coast to search for oil deposits below the seabed. In this highly disruptive process, ships towing miles-long arrays of sensors and airguns set off dynamite-like explosions of air every 10 to 12 seconds, for weeks or even months on end. By the government’s own estimates, this would result in hundreds of thousands of incidents of disruption, harm or even death for marine mammals like dolphins and whales. 

Since 2018, the Trump administration has been rolling back safety rules put in place following the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. In 2010, the rig exploded and poured millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, leading to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, and billions in damages to Gulf economies. Investigations into the safety and regulatory neglect that led to the disaster paved the way for rules that would make offshore oil drilling safer and cleaner. Trump rolled back these safety rules, and today, drilling is no safer. It’s not a matter of if, but rather when, another disaster like the Deepwater Horizon will occur.  

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In June of this year, Trump stripped away protections from the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England, allowing the use of fishing gear that could entangle the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and other marine mammals, and destroy coral gardens that are thousands of years old.

Trump has gutted important environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. These laws are critical to protecting and restoring populations of endangered species like sea turtles, manatees and sharks, and for ensuring destructive construction projects don’t decimate habitats and devastate vulnerable animal populations. 

Finally, Trump has abandoned the fight against our most urgent environmental threat: the climate crisis that threatens every animal, human and ecosystem on this planet. To get the unfolding climate disaster under control, we must move away from burning dirty fossil fuels and embrace a clean and renewable energy future. Instead he withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, weakened automobile efficiency standards and threw out the Clean Power Plan.

Trump has done more to threaten the oceans than any president in recent history. As of July, he has completed the rollback of 68 environmental protection rules, and 32 more rollbacks are currently in progress. That is his record.

So why would he announce this withdrawal? Is it because he loves the environment? If he knows what the people of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina know: Offshore drilling is bad for the environment and clean coastal economies, how then is it OK for the other states? 

Trump is president of all the United States, not just Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. What’s right for his home state of Florida is also right for North Carolina, Virginia, California and all the other coastal states. He should listen to the nearly 400 municipalities, every East and West Coast governor, the 46,000 businesses and the 500,000 fishing families that are all demanding healthy, oil-free oceans. Permanent protections should be extended to all U.S. waters. 

If Trump wants to be known as the “environmental president” he should start acting like it. Expanding his decision to block offshore drilling in the rest of the Atlantic, the Pacific and Arctic would be a real environmental legacy. 

Jacqueline Savitz is chief policy officer at Oceana Action, the advocacy partner of Oceana. Oceana Action protects our oceans from threats like overfishing and pollution, while building political support for advancing Oceana’s goals.