The idea of drilling for oil off the Olympic coast, in or near a marine sanctuary, is so crazy and politically radioactive that environmentalists were blindsided when the Trump administration proposed it last week. Maybe that’s all part of the plan.
Now they’re saying King Donald is mad. But is there maybe a method to what ails him?
That’s the big question of the moment among environmental advocates around here, who admit they are reeling from the Trump administration’s unexpected announcement last week it plans to sell oil-drilling rights off the Washington and Oregon coasts.
The idea is so off the charts almost nobody saw it coming. For starters the oil industry has shown no interest in the Oregon coast. And in Washington, where it’s believed there are some oil and gas deposits, the general area of drilling overlaps in large part with the 4,000-square-mile Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary — where oil drilling currently is barred.
You can comment online, regulations.gov/docket?D=BOEM-2017-0074, or attend a hearing from 3-7 p.m. Feb. 5 at Landmark Convention Center, Tacoma.
“Are they really going to try to drill in a protected marine sanctuary? In the end I don’t think they will. But I keep reminding myself that I didn’t think Trump would win the election, either,” says Steve Mashuda, the managing attorney for ocean issues for Earthjustice in Seattle.
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Even the oil industry seemed unmoored at the scope of Trump’s big oil dreams. An article at Oilprice.com sounded like it was written by an excited teen rather than an industry newsletter: “Trump Proposes Most Aggressive Offshore Drilling Plan Ever.”
To recap, the Department of the Interior offered last week to open essentially all the waters around the U.S. to oil derricks, from Alaska to Florida. The shelf from 10 to 70 miles off the Washington coast is to be put up for bidding to oil companies in 2021.
What’s interesting in reading the 380-page document is that not a single oil company specifically suggested drilling off Washington. Shell, Chevron, BP and others all weighed in to support more drilling, but specified they want it to happen in the Gulf of Mexico, in the Arctic or in some cases off the Atlantic coast.
The idea that drilling here might be included also didn’t occur to many environmental groups, as none specifically mentioned it. Just two small Indian tribes — the Makahs and the Quileutes, both on the Olympic coast — sounded the alarm against the oil drilling. As well as one tiny Olympic peninsula group I’d never heard of, the North Pacific Coast Marine Resources Committee.
“We don’t write letters often, or maybe ever,” said Tami Pokorny, who helps staff the committee of volunteers from Jefferson and Clallam counties (the committee typically works on local projects such as beach restoration). “It’s such an outrageous proposal that we decided we’d better make some noise about it.”
There may have been so little opposition to the oil drilling because “everybody else figures there’s no way they’ll drill in or around a marine sanctuary,” she said. “But the Trump administration seems not to worry about existing paradigms.”
Mashuda, the Earthjustice attorney, admitted he “underestimated Trump again. It may not make any logical sense, it may be unprecedented, but by now I should not be surprised by that.”
I’ve developed my own “chaos theory” for Trump. Where most politicians undersell a controversial plan so as to stir up as little pushback as possible, Trump oversells, purposefully fanning a firestorm. He did it with that sweeping proposed rollback of national monuments. In the end, when he slashed two monuments in Utah by 2 million acres, a result that was still unprecedented in scope, it seemed moderate by comparison to his own previous excess.
The drilling plan has a number of errors, suggesting it may have been thrown together knowing most of it wouldn’t survive. In fact on Tuesday the entire state of Florida was hastily withdrawn from getting any new oil platforms — a decision critics immediately dubbed “the Mar-a-Lago exemption” after Trump’s golf club on the Florida coast.
“Are they just sloppy?” Mashuda wonders. “Or is this all some shrewd ‘art of the deal’ gambit where they put out this super-aggressive plan and count on everybody freaking out? I don’t know. My panic/don’t panic dial is set right at 50 percent.”
That’s how it goes in the age of Trump: So erratic you don’t know what to think. It feels like madness. But maybe that’s the point.