For the moment, the Trump administration has scaled back its ambitions to open wide swaths of the Atlantic to oil and gas extraction. The move gives Trump and other Republicans, including those from coastal areas concerned about expanding offshore drilling, a reprieve from questions about the administration’s plans before the 2020 election.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of hot water yet.
The Trump administration is still processing permits for firms to search for oil and gas deposits in the Atlantic, The Post’s Darryl Fears reports.
The continued consideration of granting those Bureau of Ocean Energy Management permits is not just concerning for coastal residents, since it portends the administration may one day dust off its offshore leasing plans. The method by which energy firms looks for undersea oil and gas is controversial in and of itself, as well.
What oil and gas companies are asking permission to do is send out vessels to blast sound waves through the water to “see” whether there are pockets of oil and gas below the seabed, similar to how some whales and dolphins use echo location to find food and mates.
The problem is that, according to some scientists, seismic testing imperils the lives and livelihoods of those very sea creatures that rely on echo location.
Last week, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said that a recent federal court decision forestalled immediate plans to update the government’s five-year leasing plan in federal waters on the outer continental shelf.
But the continuation of permitting, as reported by The Post and Reuters, gives administration critics, such as former deputy interior secretary David Hayes, fodder.
.@Interior seems flummoxed about actuating its grand ambitions to expand #offshore oil drilling & #seismic testing in the Atlantic & along the Florida Gulf & Pacific coasts & in the Arctic. Enough hand wringing. Pls just admit that these are all bad ideas. https://t.co/e8J3iD3Z7E— David J. Hayes (@djhayes01) April 30, 2019
Even before the court decision, the plan to expand major offshore oil drilling beyond the Gulf of Mexico was already facing strong head winds from Republican politicians in coastal states with economies that rely on tourism. In a March letter to Bernhardt, for example, both GOP senators from Florida, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, cited “the broad support within the state” for the current drilling moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico as reason Florida’s waters should be excluded from any new leasing for offshore drilling.
As it is in most presidential election cycles, Florida will be a crucial swing state in Trump’s reelection bid.
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— Beto backs down: After weeks of being prodded by climate activists, presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke announced he will join several other Democratic contenders in signing the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, which means his campaign won’t take donations over $200 from the executives or political action committees of fossil fuel companies. In a video message, former congressman from oil-producing Texas said he was in part convinced by students who pushed him to sign the pledge during an event at College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. last month. He also said the campaign returned any donations that did not meet the pledge’s standards.
I have signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge. Here's why: pic.twitter.com/VtuJQeMMgT— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) May 1, 2019
Meanwhile, after initially criticizing the climate plan released by O’Rourke, the Sunrise Movement released an updated statement. The group’s executive director, Varshini Prakash tweeted that it “came out a bit too hot” on the plan, now calling it a “great start.” “On multiple occasions including as recently as this month, O’Rourke backed calls for net-zero domestic emissions by 2030. We saw his ‘moonshot’ rhetoric as the gold standard for how to convey the urgency and were excited to see his policy align with this urgent message,” the youth climate activist group said in a statement. “Our movement was disappointed to see him move back the goalposts. While timelines are just one of the many important elements of what we look for in a strong policy, our statement focused on this change.”
— GOP lawmaker introduces measure to force vote on Green New Deal: Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) formally introduced a discharge petition, which is meant to bypass Democratic leadership and force a vote on the climate resolution if 218 lawmakers sign the petition. Hice told the Hill he is hoping 20 Democrats sign the petition to reach that mark. “I'm not gonna put any Democrats on the spot right now, I've had some positive conversations but we'll see,” Hice said. “There are 92 Democrats that have co-sponsored the Green New Deal so hopefully some of them will come on board and call for a vote.”
— How an infrastructure deal could benefit national parks: House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said he has talked to Democratic leadership about the possible inclusion of funding for National Park Service maintenance in the $2 trillion infrastructure package being discussed by the White House and Democratic leaders. He said he is hoping to see what “we can get out of an infrastructure bill,” E&E News reports. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, also suggested the package could help pay down some of the $12 billion in current maintenance backlog. "With the amount of money they're talking about, it certainly could be," he said. But Cole also warned he wouldn’t “put too much stock in any of this until I see how they are going to pay for it.”
—Meanwhile on disaster spending: Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) has a new proposal that would send $300 million in additional funds to Puerto Rico, a move that makes several concessions to demands from Democrats and looks to end the impasse over disaster relief that has continued for months, The Post’s Erica Werner reports. Along with $300 million that would go to Puerto Rico in the form of Community Development Block Grant assistance, the offer also includes language to speed up access to $16 billion already appropriated by Congress for such block grant money, $8.3 billion of which would go to Puerto Rico. But the offer still awaits a greenlight from the White House and has not received an endorsement from the president, who has resisted additional funding for the U.S. territory.
— Mainers, say goodbye to most Styrofoam: Gov. Janet Mills (D) signed a law making the state one of the first to ban Styrofoam food and drink containers in restaurants, coffee shops, food trucks, grocery stores and other similar establishments. These single-use containers will be banned starting at the beginning of 2021, the Portland Press Herald reports. Some establishments such as hospitals, seafood shippers and stores selling prepackaged meats will be exempt from the ban, per the report.
— EPA says weed killer chemical poses no risk to health: Contradicting numerous juries in the United States that have ruled glyphosate has caused cancer in people, the Environmental Protection Agency said this week the chemical found in popular weed killers is not a carcinogen. “EPA continues to find that there are no risks to public health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label and that glyphosate is not a carcinogen,” agency administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. The chemical is the most widely used herbicide in U.S. agriculture, Reuters reports, and the chemical found in Bayer’s Roundup is at the center of thousands of lawsuits from users of the product who allege it caused cancer. The agency announced proposed measures “to help farmers target pesticide sprays on the intended pest, protect pollinators, and reduce the problem of weeds becoming resistant to glyphosate,” per an agency statement.
— Steve King offers shrinking deserts as a “good side” of global warming: The controversial Iowa Republican told constituents at a recent town hall that he wanted to “look at the other, good side” of the issue. In response to a question about climate geoengineering, King first said he would need to research the topic further and then pivoted his response to broad remarks about global warming. “But I think that, I began, when I first looked at that, I thought, 'I'm hearing all these things that are bad, well, what could be good?,’ ” he said, according to the Sioux City Journal. “Seventy percent of the Earth is covered by water. If the earth warms, then there is evaporation that goes into the atmosphere … That means it will rain more and more places. It might rain harder in some places, it might snow in some of those places. But it's surely got to shrink the deserts and expand the green growth, there's surely got to be some good in that. So I just look at the other, good side.”
— Midwest and Plains prepare for more severe weather: The middle of the nation, parts of which have recently been plagued by serious storms and river flooding, saw more severe weather this week, which aggravated the flooding in some areas. “In Davenport, Iowa, a flash-flood emergency was issued late Tuesday as a flood barrier failed and water poured into the city … The failure was spurred by the Mississippi River rising to near-historic levels,” The Post’s Ian Livingston reports. “To the south, an area from Illinois to Oklahoma saw round after round of flash-flood-inducing rain Tuesday. Wednesday morning, most of Missouri was under flood warnings as numerous creeks and streams overflowed their banks.” And more expected rainfall is set to exacerbate that overflow.
— Renewables could soon outperform coal: According to the Energy Information Administration's Short-Term Energy Outlook, more electricity may be generated by sources such as hydro, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal sources than from coal by April or May. “The report says renewables would generate 2,322 gigawatt-hours a day in April and 2,271 GWh per day this month, compared with 1,997 GWh per day from coal in April and 2,239 GWh per day in May,” E&E News reports. It would be the first time renewables have outpaced coal since the EIA started tracking the two sources in 1973.
- House Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the status of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the nominations of Daniel Habib Jorjani to be Interior Department solicitor and Mark Lee Greenblatt to be Interior inspector general.
— A different perspective of a tornado: Brandon Clement, who has been chasing storms since he was a child, captured close-up footage of an Oklahoma tornado from a drone. “I’ve been working on getting that shot for about three years now,” he told The Post’s Matthew Cappucci. “I’ve probably done a half-million miles chasing across the country by now. But this one is pretty special.”