Americans Red and Blue Unite Against Trump's Plan to Drill the Atlantic
By Jeff Turrentine
President Trump, to put it mildly, hasn't worked too hard to bring Democrats and Republicans together on many issues. By almost any account, the partisan divide in this country today is wider than it's been in living memory, certainly wider than it was before he took office.
But on one issue, at least, the president seems to have bridged that divide and fostered some much-needed unity. When it comes to endorsing Trump's plan to open up the Atlantic coast to oil and gas drilling, citizens in both red and blue states—as well as their elected officials—are speaking with one voice.
They're saying, "Hell, no."
When Trump issued an executive order unveiling his new America-First Offshore Energy Strategy back in April, his administration announced that the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program would be one of its key components. Under the aegis of this new program—which essentially reverses the Obama administration's 2016 ban on drilling in the Atlantic—the U.S. Department of the Interior would begin considering new leases for oil and gas rigs along the Eastern Seaboard for a five-year period beginning in 2019.
Trump knew the move would enrage many of those who didn't vote for him and who already oppose his pro-extraction, anti-renewables energy policy. But by oh-so-cleverly placing the words America First in his plan's name, he probably thought he'd have no trouble picking up support in states where he had performed well in the election, or where the GOP controls the statehouse or the legislature (or both).
Except that's not what happened.
The response from South Carolina—where Trump beat Hillary Clinton by more than 14 points, and where the Trump-supporting Republican governor, Henry McMaster, routinely enjoys the cooperation of a state legislature dominated by members of his party—must have caught the president off guard. "I'm against it," said the governor, flatly and unequivocally, back in June. His objection is shared by the mayors of Republican-heavy cities and towns up and down South Carolina's coast. It's also shared by the president of the state's Small Business Chamber of Commerce, who also leads the multistate Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, which represents more than 40,000 businesses that oppose the drilling leases.
Other Republican governors along the eastern coast who publicly oppose offshore drilling include Larry Hogan of Maryland and Chris Christie of New Jersey—the latter of whom enthusiastically endorsed Trump during the GOP primaries. While the GOP governors of Georgia and Florida, Nathan Deal and Rick Scott, respectively, have kept their mouths shut on the issue so far, their silence is a statement in and of itself. Both endorsed Trump for president, and both of their states went for Trump over Clinton. But they know the vast majority of their constituents don't want oil spills lapping at their coastlines, or the whale-killing seismic blasting that paves the way for the industry. These governors will keep quiet as long as it's politically feasible, although the pressure from newspaper editorial boards, citizens' groups and the business community suggests that time is almost up.
The public comment period for the Atlantic drilling program formally ended last week, and it's now up to the Interior Department, under the leadership of Ryan Zinke, to weigh the administration's desire to dramatically ramp up offshore oil and gas production against the public's response not to. We can safely assume that Trump and his cabinet won't give a moment's thought to objections raised by Democratic governors and lawmakers, environmental organizations and citizens' groups that are already perceived by the administration as hostile. In the president's childishly binary worldview, anyone who has ever disagreed with him on anything is, de facto, an enemy of the state whose opinion isn't worthy of consideration.
But can the president afford to defy the firmly expressed wishes of his base? Of Republican governors? Of business leaders and chambers of commerce in deep-red states? Of conservative stakeholders who are deeply (and rightly) worried about the potential destruction of the shores they call home?
As Trump and Zinke (or more likely their staffers) sift through the tens of thousands of public comments, perhaps it will finally dawn on this administration that the environment simply doesn't work as a wedge issue. Regardless of how they might vote or self-identify ideologically, American citizens have made it abundantly clear that they don't want wildlife-threatening seismic blasts or unnecessary, and leak-prone, oil rigs off their own coastlines. It's a loser on every level—environmental, economic and, yes, political.
Which brings me to my next point: We need to stop treating the protection of the environment as a "political" issue in the conventional sense of that word. We all breathe air and drink water. We all need clean, nontoxic neighborhoods and a safe food supply. We all deserve to enjoy and appreciate natural wonders like oceans, beaches and waterfronts. And we all contribute, through either our actions or our inactions, to the future condition of the planet that our children, and their children, will inherit.
Some have speculated that Trump's primary presidential motivation is nothing more than destroying Barack Obama's legacy. If this is true, then he won't heed the many voices—including those within his own party—telling him to put this idea of drilling in the Atlantic out of its misery and move on to something else. But if he actually cares about something more than spite, or even if he just wants to do the right thing, he'll listen to the American people and try to carry out their will.
Reposted with permission from our media associate OnEarth.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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