Offshore oil drilling a step backward for U.S. energy policy

Not keen on windmills in the waters off Coney Island? How about oil rigs?That’s the pitch from the Trump administration, …

Not keen on windmills in the waters off Coney Island? How about oil rigs?

That’s the pitch from the Trump administration, whose pursuit of energy independence is fueled by a strategy of drill, baby, drill. Oil, natural gas and coal are in. Solar and wind — despite rapid growth, declining cost and new jobs — are afterthoughts. Prioritizing fossil fuels amid climate change is shortsighted. Doing so while erasing safety regulations and not following strict rules on process, as President Donald Trump is doing, is wrongheaded.

Case in point: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to lease for oil and natural gas drilling nearly all federal offshore waters, including those off New York. At the same time, the Interior Department has repealed regulations to make offshore drilling safer adopted after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in U.S. history. That’s unconscionable.

Republican and Democratic governors of states affected by the plan criticized it and asked to be exempted. Zinke cited the importance of tourism in removing Florida, but the same is true of most states that protested, including New York. The real reason was craven politics: Zinke wanted to help GOP Gov. Rick Scott, whom Trump wants to run against incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. But Scott has long supported offshore drilling. Underscoring the cynicism, Zinke cannot remove sites on his own. That requires a yearslong process of public comments and analysis of criteria, like risk to the environment.

The larger question is whether this is the best road to energy independence. Cheap oil has some oil company executives skeptical about riskier and more expensive drilling offshore. Trump tries to prop up coal, but the industry continues to decline. Instead of seeking a balance of energy sources by incentivizing the growing solar and wind industries, Trump levied tariffs on cheap Chinese solar panels.

The courts most likely will have the final say in the offshore leasing plan. But it’s a bad idea on its merits. With wind and solar as viable alternatives, why risk oil on our beaches, in our waters and killing our fish and birds?

The Editorial Board