with Alexandra Ellerbeck

President Trump reversed himself yesterday and moved to ban oil drilling off the coast of Florida, a state essential for him to win in the November election. Most of the rest of the United States isn't so lucky.

The announcement of plans to extend a moratorium on oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, an area including the Sunshine State’s west coast – as well as extend it to the Atlantic coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina –  is a public about-face for Trump as he seeks to secure votes ahead of the Nov. 3 election. 

As Brady Dennis and I report, the move underscores the political reality in Florida, where Republican governors have opposed oil exploration off their shores, fearing it could imperil beaches and harm the tourism-dependent economy.

“It’s an order that does so much for the state of Florida,” Trump said Tuesday during remarks in Jupiter. “This protects your beautiful Gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come.”

Trump's move comes as recent polling shows a virtual tie in his adopted state.

An NBC News-Marist survey released yesterday of likely voters in Florida, which Trump made his official residence last year, found both Biden and Trump getting 48 percent support.

Meanwhile, expanding drilling access to more lands and waters is unpopular across the country. In a nationwide poll last year by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 8 in 10 Americans said drilling in the United States should “decrease” or “stay as is.”

In early 2018, the Trump administration unveiled a controversial proposal to permit drilling in most U.S. continental-shelf waters, including protected areas of the Arctic and the Atlantic, where oil and gas exploration is opposed by both Republican and Democratic governors up and down the East Coast.

But after then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) made clear his opposition to offshore drilling, the Trump administration exempted the state from the dramatic expansion of drilling leases across 90 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf. That left other angry officials asking why only the Sunshine State got a reprieve.

Trump, speaking only a few miles away from his Mar-a-Lago resort on Tuesday, bragged about federal money he authorized to help restore and protect the Everglades, including a dike at Lake Okeechobee.

“You've never had it so easy in your life,” Trump said to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other Florida officials Tuesday.

But the Trump administration actually sought to eliminate that specific funding earlier in the president's tenure. Lawmakers restored it after the White House removed the ask from its budget requests to Congress. The White House amended its budget proposal last year after touring the lake and hearing from Sen. Marco Rubio and other Republican members of Congress from Florida who pushed to restore the money.

Trump's Florida announcement is likely to deepen frustration in other states that have long sought assurances about offshore drilling.

Alena Yarmosky, spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), said the commonwealth has been asking for a comprehensive federal offshore drilling ban for years to no avail.

“This is about protecting our environment and the critical jobs that depend on our coast, including the seafood, aerospace, and defense industries,” Yarmosky said in an emailed statement. “Protecting our coastline isn’t a partisan issue — and it shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Like Virginia, New Jersey has sued to stop the Trump administration from approving seismic testing for offshore oil. 

"The federal government’s insistence on dismantling key environmental protections impacts not just residents and businesses along New Jersey’s coastline, but across this country," Christine Lee, spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Murphy (D), said Tuesday.

On Twitter, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was among those who accused Trump of acting out of political expediency, rather than genuine environmental concern.

Biden has proposed going further than Trump by promising to ban new leasing on all federal waters and lands — not just those off Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

By throwing a bone to Florida, Trump finds himself at odds with the oil and gas industry, normally his political ally.

Petroleum producers have eyed the eastern Gulf off Florida for years as one of the country’s best untapped offshore reservoirs. In 2006, Congress put a moratorium on oil leasing there. But that ban expires in 2022.

“Our preference should always be to produce homegrown American energy, instead of deferring future production to countries like Russia and Iran, which do not share American values,” said Erik Milito, head of the National Ocean Industries Association. “Limiting access to our offshore energy resources only shortchanges America and dulls our national outlook.”

Trump has spent much of his first term working to expand U.S. oil and gas drilling and scale back Obama-era regulations on the fossil fuel industry.

But environmental advocates said that Trump’s extended ban doesn’t go far enough. Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, noted that oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 reached five states.

“This is not a reason to celebrate, because oil spills don’t stop at state lines,” Weaver said. “As long as any part of the Atlantic coast is open to drilling, all Atlantic states are at risk. Keep the champagne corked until the entire Atlantic coast is protected.”

Power plays

Biden’s transition team includes top climate advisers.

The Democratic nominee announced new full-time hires, advisers and co-chairs to the team that will prepare him to take office if he wins in November.

“The team includes a pair of key advisers who have played major roles in developing Biden’s climate change and clean energy policies: Cecilia Martinez, executive director at the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy and a University of Delaware research professor, and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers,” E&E reports.

Martinez and Stephenson both contributed to Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan, released this summer, and both serve on the nominee’s Climate Engagement Advisory Council, a group focused on mobilizing voters around environmental issues. Stephenson’s union was one of the first energy unions to endorse Biden during the Democratic primaries.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who touted clean-energy jobs in her state during the Democratic National Convention, was also appointed as a co-chair of the team, which has a mixture of liberals and centrists, with many former Obama administration officials. 

Ted Halstead, the head of the Climate Leadership Council, died last week in a hiking accident.

“Halstead made waves in 2017 when he announced he was launching the council to promote the concept of a carbon tax, with the revenues going back to taxpayers through a carbon dividend,” the Houston Chronicle reports. The group “brought together conservatives and major polluters like Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Ted was the heartbeat of the Climate Leadership Council’s effort to reduce carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere by means of a carbon dividend program,” James Baker, who served as secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush and is a co-author of the council’s carbon dividends plan, said in a statement.

Utility companies say technology breakthroughs are needed to meet Biden’s ambitious zero-emissions targets.

“The country’s top power producers said rapid advances in nascent technologies — such as batteries to store power for lean times, carbon capture to trap waste from fossil fuels and advanced nuclear power — will be critical to reaching net-zero carbon dioxide emissions,” Reuters reports. “But these technologies are currently either too costly for mass deployment or not yet commercially viable, the companies said.”

Reuters surveyed leading publicly traded utility companies, as well as reviewed state regulatory findings and corporate planning documents. More than half of the 13 companies contacted by Reuters have plans to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050, and some promise earlier timelines, but none of the companies have explained how they will achieve that deadline. 

Even the most ambitious plans extend beyond Biden’s proposed mandate of a carbon-neutral energy sector by 2035.

“Those views cast doubt over the feasibility of Biden’s proposed mandate as he prepares to face off with President Donald Trump — a climate change skeptic and booster of fossil fuels — in the November election,” Reuters writes. 


Warnings for dangerous fire weather were issued across the West Coast.

Though the traditional fire season has yet to begin, parts of a half-dozen states from coastal California to the Rocky Mountains are being charred by more than 70 wildfires that are being fed by tinder-dry vegetation, record heat and blustery winds that kicked up Tuesday across the region,” my colleague Scott Wilson reports. Although traditionally fire season would still be weeks away, climate extremes mean “fire season increasingly has become a year-round event in the American West.”

On Tuesday, warnings for dangerous fire weather stretched across the entire West Coast. In California, which has seen the worst of the fires this summer, Pacific Gas and Electric shut off electricity to 172,000 customers, anticipating that strong winds could knock down power lines and spark new blazes.

And this year’s fires are strange in other ways.

“Fires have been burning in unusual ways this summer, with fire behavior that eludes firefighters’ control,” Diana Leonard and Andrew Freedman write. “Fueled by record-setting temperatures, up to 120 degrees even near the coast, they have spawned towering columns of smoke and ash, forming their own thunderstorms and even fire tornadoes.”

Studies show that the number of fire days in California has increased, a fact that scientists attribute to climate change. Prolonged, simultaneous fires are stretching the capacity of firefighters.

Wildfires have fundamentally changed, but the way we prepare for and manage them has not,” Leonard and Freedman write. 

Even as California orders tens of thousands to evacuate, some agricultural producers have received exemptions. 

Their employees, often undocumented immigrants, may have little choice but to accept offers of work in vineyards and other farms affected by the fires, the Intercept reports. While California is the only state to have worker safety protocols specific to wildfire risks, many activists say the protections only come into play once well after air quality has reached a level hazardous to health.

As hurricane season peaks, tropical storm activity in the Atlantic remains high.

“Tropical storms Paulette and Rene formed in the Atlantic overnight Sunday into Monday, the pair likely to strengthen as they shift west-northwest. Meanwhile, two more disturbances could develop into storms over the next five days,” my colleague Matthew Cappucci writes.

While Rene brought heavy rain to the Cabo Verde Islands, west of Senegal, both storms are expected to largely fizzle out over the ocean, causing little to no additional impact to land areas. But the two tropical storms drive home how active this hurricane season has been. Meanwhile, meteorologists are keeping an eye on weather patterns off the U.S. East Coast and off the west coast of Africa.

The National Hurricane Center tweeted:

“The latest spate of storminess exhausts two more names from the 2020 Atlantic list of names, and only four remain before the National Hurricane Center dips into the Greek alphabet,” Cappucci reports. “It’s a testament to the busy season we’ve had, which has featured the earliest C, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O, P and R storms on record.”

Oil check

Uber announced that by 2030, 100 percent of its rides in the U.S., Canada and Europe will be in electric vehicles.

Starting on Tuesday, the company is providing riders the choice of a hybrid or electric vehicle for a $1 surcharge. The goal is to incentivize drivers to make the switch to cleaner vehicles. For a hybrid or an electric vehicle, drivers will get an extra 50 cents per ride. That increases to $1.50 if the car is battery-electric, The Verge reports.

Uber also said it plans to invest $800 million and create partnerships with automakers, electric-vehicle-charging companies and others to help its drivers make the transition. It’s not the only ride-sharing company to promise a transition to clean vehicles: Lyft announced earlier this summer a target of 100 percent electric vehicles by 2030.

As sales on public lands draw low bids, conservation and taxpayer groups push for the government to stop drilling auctions.

An oil- and gas-leasing sale in Nevada, the first of six public land sales planned for this month, “drew mostly minimum bids from a weakened drilling industry,” Reuters reports. “Of the 11 parcels offered on Tuesday, seven sold for the minimum bid of $2 an acre. The remaining four sold for under $10 an acre.

The sale comes as the Bureau of Land Management resumes auctions on public lands after a five-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. Advocacy groups for fiscal responsibility and conservation have argued that taxpayers are getting a raw deal on the sales because of low prices and demand.tes.