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Experts: Long Road for Drilling Order  04/29 10:45

   (AP) -- President Donald Trump's executive order seeking to find new ocean 
expanses in the Atlantic and the Arctic for offshore drilling isn't likely to 
reach its goals anytime soon, but instead will kick off a yearslong review and 
legal battle.

   Trump signed the order Friday aimed at dismantling a key part of former 
President Barack Obama's environmental legacy.

   "This executive order starts the process of opening offshore areas to 
job-creating energy exploration," he said. "It reverses the previous 
administration's Arctic leasing ban and directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke 
to allow responsible development of off-shore areas that will bring revenue to 
our treasury and jobs to our workers."

   Despite Trump's assertion that the nation needs to wean itself of foreign 
oil, U.S. oil imports have declined in recent years as domestic production 
boomed amid improved drilling techniques opening up once unreachable areas.

   And environmental law and policy experts questioned Trump's authority to 
reverse Obama's withdrawal of certain areas in the Arctic or Atlantic to 
drilling, a question likely to be decided in the courts.

   "It's not quite as simple as the president signs something and it undoes the 
past," said Sean Hecht, a University of California, Los Angeles environmental 
law professor.

   For instance, Obama used his authority under the Outer Continental Shelf 
Lands Act to protect Arctic areas from oil drilling late last year, a move 
Trump's order seeks to undo. At the time, Obama administration lawyers said 
they were confident that move would be upheld in court.

   Legal experts say the law has never been used by a president to remove 
protections, just to create them.

   Trump's order also directed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to conduct a 
review of marine monuments and sanctuaries designated this past decade. Obama 
issued monument proclamations under the Antiquities Act, including the 
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the Atlantic, which 
protected that swath of sea from drilling.

   Legal scholars said Trump would enter uncharted waters if he seeks to undo a 
national monument proclamation in an effort to remove environmental protections.

   Under Trump's order, Interior Secretary Zinke will start to review the 
government's plan that dictates which federal locations are open to offshore 
drilling, known as the 5-year plan.

   The administration can redo the 5-year-plan, but it's a long process. Zinke 
said the leases scheduled under the existing plan would remain in effect during 
the review, which he estimated would take years before any new leases are 
possible.

   Still, Pam Giblin, an Austin, Texas-based environmental attorney who 
represents energy companies said Trump's order is welcome to her clients 
despite the limitations they see.

   "Every one of these orders is primarily aspirational. But it is starting to 
change the lens through which government is talking about fossil fuels," she 
said.

   The new 5-year plan could indeed open new areas of oil and gas exploration 
in waters off Virginia, Georgia and North and South Carolina, where drilling 
has been blocked for decades. Many lawmakers in those states support offshore 
drilling, and Alaska's governor and its Washington delegation all supported the 
order.

   But the plan faces opposition from the fishing industry, tourism groups and 
even the U.S. military, which has said Atlantic offshore drilling could hurt 
military maneuvers and interfere with missile tests needed to help protect the 
East Coast.

   More than 120 coastal communities from New Jersey to Florida have passed 
resolutions opposing any Atlantic drilling.

   "Allowing offshore drilling is a forever decision that will forever change 
our way of life for the worse," said Frank Knapp, president of Columbia, South 
Carolina-based Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast.

   Environmental groups are preparing for the fight to come, saying that 
opening up vast areas to drilling harms whales, walruses and other wildlife and 
exacerbates global warming.

   "We will go to court to enforce the law and ensure President Obama's 
protections remain in place," Trip Van Noppen, president of the environmental 
legal organization Earthjustice, said in a statement.


(KA)

 
 
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