Trump administration halts plan to expand offshore drilling

The Trump administration is hitting pause on its ambitious and controversial plans to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic.

Newly confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said the agency has indefinitely sidelined its exploration of offshore drilling options as it grapples with a recent court order that blocks similar drilling in the Arctic.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published Thursday, Bernhardt said the department has decided to wait on the outcome of appeals to the March case before deciding whether to move forward with additional drilling plans.

“By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” Bernhardt told the Journal. “What if you guess wrong? ... I’m not sure that’s a very satisfactory and responsible use of resources.”

In March, a federal judge in Alaska reinstated a ban on drilling in the Arctic originally implemented under the Obama administration. The ruling halted hotly debated plans to open up the area to offshore drilling. It also invalidated an earlier executive order from President Trump overturning the Obama-era ban.

Now, the ruling means Interior may have to wait until the case goes through a likely lengthy round of appeals before deciding how to move forward on its Atlantic drilling plans.

"Given the recent court decision, the Department is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the President," an Interior spokesperson told the Hill in a statement.

There also remains the question of ongoing pushback from coastal states. The majority of lawmakers and governors for coastal Atlantic states have vocally opposed any drilling, including seismic testing needed to determine where oil deposits are located.

The Interior Department has handed out personal assurances to some state representatives, including those from Florida and Maine, that drilling will not affect their states. Critics have challenged those promises as cherry-picking.

Bernhardt during his confirmation hearing told senators that the draft plan for the drilling proposal was still at its very beginning stages — a comment that painted the planning as behind schedule. The proposal has been anticipated for months.

“Areas of comity are generally found on that if you look back at the history of the program,” Bernhardt said of his plans to get senators on board.

“Certainly that is a very important component and I made that assurance to a lot of senators.”