On campaign trail in FL, Trump reverses course, extends ban on offshore oil drilling; critics call it a “desperate political stunt”

Platform supply vessels battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon in the infamous 2010 BP oil spill. The explosion killed 11 rig workers and spewed 210 millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard; Wikimedia Commons

President Donald Trump, on the campaign trail in Jupiter Tuesday, signed an order extending a moratorium on oil drilling off Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts and off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.

Environmentalists and Florida lawmakers who have long opposed Trump’s announced plans to open Florida waters to oil drilling called the action a “desperate” campaign stunt ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

President Donald Trump in Jupiter, FL, Sept. 8, 2020, on environmental accomplishments in FL. Credit: The White House @WhiteHouse.

“We’re here to celebrate our incredible record of natural conservation and environmental protection over the last four years,” Trump said in his speech broadcast via White House Twitter from the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse in Palm Beach County.  “To my administration, environmental protection is a sacred obligation.”

Trump, who has a residence in Florida, never once mentioned climate change or sea-level rise that is inundating coastal Florida, but he did allude to his re-election efforts here in this swing state.

Introducing his ally and fellow Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump said, “What a great job he did. Of course, we’ll let you know on Nov. 3, I’ll let you know if he did a good job, ok?”

With beaches playing a vital role in Florida’s tourism-based economy, Floridians across the board have long opposed offshore oil drilling, even before the BP/Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster spewed 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and onto Gulf Coast coastlines.

“This desperate political stunt won’t make Floridians forget that Trump was the one that proposed opening our state to drilling in the first place,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, in an email to the Florida Phoenix. “Voters shouldn’t be duped by this cheap, last-minute maneuver. It can’t even begin to make up for the aggressive efforts to expand dirty offshore drilling since Trump’s been in office.”

Congressman Francis Rooney, a Naples Republican, said in a press statement Tuesday he is relieved that Trump finally extended the moratorium, which was instituted by President Barack Obama and would have expired in 2022. Rooney has been trying to enshrine the drilling ban in law, so that it would not be subject to any presidential change of mind.

“I have worked tirelessly during my four years in Congress to unite Florida’s Congressional delegation on this issue, pass legislation (H.R. 205) to permanently extend the moratorium on drilling in the [Eastern Gulf of Mexico], and lobby this administration on the need to keep offshore drilling from being a potential danger to our economy, ecology, and military readiness,” said Rooney, who is not seeking reelection this fall.

Jonathan Webber, deputy director of Florida Conservation Voters, said in an interview that listening to Trump’s speech after watching him withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Accord and dismantle scores of environmental regulations was like “watching the Twilight Zone.”

“All of this talk [about the environment] with no mention of climate change, it’s bewildering,” Webber said. He said genuine concern about pollution from oil would lead to a moratorium on oil drilling in all waters and sensitive lands, and ultimately to abandoning oil as a fuel because it is the No. 1 cause of greenhouse  gases causing climate change.

“Here in Florida, we feel the impacts of climate change every day, but Trump continues to ignore science and the experts and has completely failed to protect our health and safety,” said Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief. “Today it looks like he’s also ignoring his own harmful record.”

Sierra Club Political Director Ariel Hayes called Trump’s speech “gaslighting.”

“Failing to adequately fund Everglades restoration, attempting to sell off our waters to corporate polluters, and rolling back more than 100 environmental protections doesn’t make you anything other than the worst president ever for the environment and climate,” Hayes said in a statement issued by Sierra Club. “Voters in Florida and across the country have watched Trump achieve this status for nearly four years, and no amount of greenhouse gaslighting will change that.”