Trump admin’s approval of drilling tests in Atlantic bucks both parties

Donald Trump. File photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Dec. 13 (UPI) — Republicans and environmental groups are united in an effort to prevent seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean that could be used for offshore drilling, but the Trump administration appears to be ignoring them.

On Monday, eight environmental groups, including Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service to prevent seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic Ocean after the NMFS announced it granted permits to five companies to conduct the tests, which studies have shown can cause severe harm to ocean life.

“This extremely loud and dangerous process, which is used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean’s surface, is the first step toward offshore drilling,” Oceana said in a statement. “If allowed, seismic airgun blasting would harm marine life, including whales, dolphins, fish and zooplankton — the foundation of the ocean food web.”

But it’s not just environmental groups that are opposed to the testing, which are conducted to determine if there is enough oil reserves to begin offshore drilling.

On Dec. 6, nearly 100 members of Congress from both parties, including several Florida Republican representatives, submitted a letter to the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior that denounced the Trump administration’s decision to issue the seismic testing permits.

“Opening the Atlantic to seismic testing and drilling jeopardizes our coastal businesses, fishing communities, tourism, and our national security. It harms our coastal economies in the near term and opens the door to even greater risks from offshore oil and gas production down the road,” the letter stated. “Given the significant environmental and economic risks, we strongly oppose the issuance of IHA permits for companies seeking to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic.”

After a year of toxic red tide washing up on Florida’s coasts, the environment was a top concern for voters during the midterms. And opposition to offshore drilling was a factor in Florida’s tight gubernatorial race as both candidates promised to save Florida’s beaches.

The winner, Republican Ron DeSantis, who was heavily promoted by President Donald Trump, made opposition to offshore drilling a part of his campaign platform. The leader of DeSantis’ transition team, Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., was one of the signatories to the Dec. 6 letter.

“Gas exploration and drilling put our environment, coastal businesses, fishing communities, tourism and national security at risk. We should not tolerate ANY attempts to conduct seismic testing in the Atlantic,” Mast tweeted.

The rare show of unity between Republicans, Democrats and environmental groups on this issue has been going on for years.

In July 2014, the Obama administration lifted a ban on seismic testing, paving the way for oil corporations to begin the exploratory process of potential drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. But in a display of the unpopularity of such drilling, members of both parties criticized the decision.

In December 2015, Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., submitted a letter, signed by nearly three dozen representatives from both parties, to the Obama administration urging it to disallow seismic testing. And in July 2016, a bipartisan congressional delegation from Florida submitted an amendment to ban seismic testing off the state’s coasts.

“South Florida’s precious environmental resources, from our coral reefs and fisheries to our world-renowned beaches, are critical to the region’s economy and resilience,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said in a statement at the time.

President Barack Obama eventually acquiesced and, just days before leaving office in January 2017, denied all pending permits for seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean.

That decision was reversed by Trump, whose administration granted the permits this month.

Lawmakers opposed to seismic testing are still considering legislative action. Last month, Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., introduced the Atlantic Seismic Airgun Protection Act

“Given that the Trump administration has formally announced its intention to ignore the concerns of residents and stakeholders directly impacted by these actions, it is time for Congress to step in and put a stop to this” by passing the bill, he said in a statement.


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