Trump Likely to Back Extended Offshore Drilling Ban Near Florida

President Donald Trump is set to endorse an extended ban on offshore oil development on Florida’s western coast as he courts voters worried that drilling imperils the state’s beaches and tourism-based economy.

At issue is a moratorium on selling new leases in an area of the eastern Gulf of Mexico about 150 miles from the Florida coast — a ban that is set to expire in 2022, unless Congress renews it. Trump is expected to endorse the extension of that moratorium during a visit to Florida on Tuesday, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named before a formal announcement.

The White House declined to respond to a question about the moratorium but said in a statement that Trump is slated to discuss his administration’s conservation and environmental protection efforts in the region during an afternoon speech in Jupiter, Florida.

“These projects aim to reinvigorate the Everglades, enhance regional water storage capacity, and reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee, helping address the problems of blue-green algae and the red tide,” said White House spokesman Judd Deere.

Trump cannot extend the statutory ban on oil leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico without Congress, and it’s unclear that lawmakers would enact the change this year.

Oil industry advocates, including the American Petroleum Institute, had lobbied the administration to sell leases in the eastern Gulf after the moratorium expires. And for a time in 2018, Trump’s Interior Department was charting plans to do just that.

Oil industry advocates also have floated a compromise to make the moratorium permanent while also shrinking the boundaries of the off-limits area by about 50 miles, so companies can tap the most tempting prospects in the region.

The eastern Gulf of Mexico is a draw to oil companies because it is close to existing pipelines and infrastructure, including refineries in Texas and Louisiana. The area also is believed to have major oil and gas reserves. Energy companies already discovered a jackpot of natural gas roughly 30 years ago — at least 700 billion cubic feet and as much as 3 trillion cubic feet — in the Destin Dome, located about 25 miles south of Pensacola, Florida. The same geological trends that have yielded major oil discoveries in other parts of the Gulf could be replicated in its

“America’s offshore energy resources are a strategic asset,” said Erik Milito, head of the National Ocean Industries Association. “The economic, national security and environmental stewardship benefits the offshore provides impact every American. The benefits are nonpartisan; we should not limit American offshore production.”

But environmentalists have warned that an oil spill in the eastern Gulf could send crude floating around the state and washing up the east coast. Florida voters and politicians have cautioned that oil spills could cripple the state’s tourism economy.

Politico reported earlier Monday that the Trump administration was planning an announcement of an expanded drilling moratorium.

The issue has been a political hot potato for Trump. Shortly after taking office, he ordered the Interior Department to consider scheduling new sales of drilling rights along U.S. coastlines, with an eye on annual auctions of territory in the western and central Gulf of Mexico, Arctic waters north of Alaska, and the mid- and south-Atlantic. The agency responded in January 2018 with a draft plan opening the door to selling drilling rights in more than 90% of U.S. coastal waters.

But by spring 2019, administration officials had decided to delay their plan to expand oil leasing until after the 2020 election, worried that the president and Republican leaders in the southeast U.S. would lose votes if they pushed forward with selling new drilling rights in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans.

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