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Trump Expands Offshore Drilling in "Assault" on Biodiversity and Coastal & Indigenous Communities

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Bipartisan opposition is growing to President Trump's proposal to greatly expand offshore oil and gas drilling. The reversal of the Obama-era restrictions would open more than a billion acres of water in the Arctic, Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil and gas drilling. Initially the Interior Department moved to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all of the United States' coastal waters, but then announced it has dropped plans to open up the waters off the coast of Florida, following fierce opposition by Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott. Scott is an ally of President Trump, and the state is also home to Trump's winter resort at Mar-a-Lago. Now governors and lawmakers from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington and other states are asking why only Florida is being exempted.

We speak to Subhankar Banerjee, professor of art and ecology at the University of New Mexico. Banerjee is the author of "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land" and editor of "Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point."

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: Bipartisan opposition is growing to President Trump's proposal to greatly expand offshore oil and gas drilling. The reversal of the Obama-era restrictions would open more than a billion acres of water in the Arctic, Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil and gas drilling. Initially the Interior Department moved to allow offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all of the United States' coastal waters, but then announced it has dropped plans to open up the waters off the coast of Florida, following fierce opposition by Florida's Republican Governor Rick Scott. Scott is an ally of President Trump, and the state is also home to Trump's winter resort at Mar-a-Lago. But now governors and lawmakers from Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, California, Oregon, Washington and other states are asking why only Florida is being exempted.

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AMY GOODMAN: The move comes as the Trump administration is also moving forward on plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. The Republican tax bill, which Trump signed into law last month, included a little-discussed provision to drill in the Arctic. On Wednesday, during a press conference with the prime minister of Norway, Trump boasted about his embrace of fossil fuels.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I am for massive oil and gas and everything else and a lot of energy. Putin can't love that. I am for the strongest military that the United States ever had. Putin can't love that. But Hillary was not for a strong military. And Hillary, my opponent, was for windmills. And she was for other types of energy that don't have the same capacities, at this moment, certainly.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where we're joined by Subhankar Banerjee, professor of art and ecology at the University of New Mexico. Professor Banerjee is the author of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land and editor of Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point.

Well, we come back to you, Professor Banerjee, because, while first we talked to you about the inclusion of opening up the Arctic to drilling, to satisfy Senator Murkowski, to get her to sign on to the tax bill, that tax bill was signed off on. She supported it. And now, if you can take us from there, what has happened since?

SUBHANKAR BANERJEE: Thank you, Amy, thank you, Nermeen, for giving voice to our Arctic oceans.

So, the Department of Interior released their five-year Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas lease plan last Thursday, which is really -- there is no other way to say it than that it is an all-out attack on our oceans, across the country, and on coastal communities. It is so expansive. As you mentioned, it plans to open up more than a billion acres of federal waters. It's very hard to comprehend the scope of this, from Florida -- although Florida, as you said, he's pulling back -- to Alaska, from California to Maine, and every state, as well as the entire Gulf of Mexico. So, it's a massive plan. There are 47 leases that they plan to offer, which is the largest number of offshore leases ever in the history of the United States. And in terms of acreage, also, like you said, Nermeen, more than a billion acres, it is the largest.

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And plans to open up the entire Arctic seas of Alaska, the Beaufort and the Chukchi seas, our undeveloped Arctic Ocean. Now, this decision comes on the heels of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as, Amy, you mentioned. And that came right after the administration offered, on December 6th, what they call the largest lease sale ever within the National Petroleum Reserve in Western Arctic of Alaska. So they're on an all-out war against conservation and indigenous rights and against small communities across the country.

Now, in addition to the lease sale, this massive offshore lease sale plan, they have done two more things that we need to pay attention to. One is weakening of offshore regulations, safety regulations that were put in place after Deepwater Horizon. And the other is weakening of federal oversight on offshore oil and gas lease plan. And I will speak briefly the immediate history of those two components, which is extremely important.

The reason Deepwater Horizon happened in the Gulf of Mexico, British Petroleum's, BP's Deepwater Horizon, which spilled more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, devastating wildlife and coastal communities, was because BP was trying to save costs and was trying to become the top dog in the entire Gulf of Mexico offshore drilling operations, trying to beat out Shell. And so, in that process, they basically cut costs and did not do proper safety. So the blowout preventer is what caused that blowout to happen, the largest blowout and spill in the U.S. history. Subsequent to that, several years of work went in that led to establishing offshore safety equipment regulations. So, exactly the week before last week, the Obama -- I mean, the Trump administration announced weakening of those regulations. So, it's extremely important.

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