Interior Department Reignites Coastal Threat

Along the East Coast, we thought we already had this fight settled. Now, after the Trump administration opened almost all United States federal waters to oil exploration and drilling, the battle to protect the oceans, as well as to slow global warming, must be taken to another level. 

Last week, the Trump administration announced that oil and gas companies could again begin work on more than a billion acres of ocean in the Arctic and off the Eastern Seaboard, reversing President Obama’s ban. The move was widely anticipated, at least since Ryan Zinke, a Montana congressman, climate change skeptic, and oil pipeline company board member, was appointed secretary of the interior last year. It also comes shortly after the Trump White House relaxed safety rules put in place after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil platform disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, from which the region is still recovering at a cost of billions.

Fearing for his own political future in a divided congressional district, Representative Lee Zeldin, an early Trump supporter, quickly distanced himself from the offshore oil decision after it was announced. However, for Mr. Zeldin’s opposition to have any real effect, he should be willing to stand up to the White House on other priorities until meaningful protections for the nation’s coastlines are assured.

The direct costs of offshore oil are potentially massive. In 2010, the Deepwater blowout fouled more than 1,000 miles of coast in one of the worst environmental catastrophes in history. Losses in the gulf commercial and recreational fishing industries ran more than an estimated $1.5 billion for the first eight months alone after the spill began. The environmental effects were immediate and have continued to the present day, including the devastation of protective mangroves and breeding areas. Sea life remains challenged, with ongoing marine mammal deaths, though the long-term effects are only now beginning to be understood.

Along the East Coast, one of the areas long sought by oil and gas companies is Georges Banks, one of the most productive fishing areas in the region. Fossil fuel extraction there would come at great risk, from both sonic exploration and spills. Returning to oil as a national priority would also be a step in the wrong direction. 

Already, safer, less-polluting natural gas and land-based production have increased massively, calling into question the urgency of offshore development anyway. For eastern Long Island, the economy largely depends on its beaches — and commercial fishing stands alone as the only major industry not directly linked to resort and second-home business activities. A major spill here would crush both.

Then there is the overarching effect on the planet itself. Oil, like its cousin coal, is one of the key sources of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming. The shift away from fossil fuels toward renewables, including offshore wind turbines, as well as demand reduction, is the only responsible course for the seas and the Earth. It is unfortunate that the Trump administration has listened only to industry in opening the nation’s coasts to oil instead of taking the long view and doing what is right for all of us.