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Drill, baby, drill is a step backward for U.S. energy policy

An oil rig off the U.S. Pacific Ocean

An oil rig off the U.S. Pacific Ocean coastline. The Trump administration announced plans to dramatically expand offshore drilling off Seal Beach, Calif. Credit: GARCIA / EPA-EFE / REX / Shutterstock

Not keen on the idea of windmills off Long Island?

How about oil rigs?

That’s the pitch from the Trump administration, which in its pursuit of energy independence and greater energy exports is resorting to a strategy of drill, baby, drill. Oil, natural gas and coal are in. Solar and wind — despite rapid growth, declining cost, job-producing capability and increasing favor with Americans — are afterthoughts, at best. Prioritizing fossil fuels in an era of climate change is shortsighted. Doing that while erasing safety regulations and not following strict rules on process, as President Donald Trump is doing, is just plain wrongheaded.

Case in point: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to lease for oil and natural gas drilling nearly all federal offshore waters. The proposal seeks to open more than 90 percent of the country’s outer continental shelf — from Alaska to the California coast, more parts of the Gulf of Mexico, and the entire Eastern Seaboard, including off Long Island.

At the same time, the Interior Department has repealed regulations to make offshore drilling safer adopted after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in U.S. history.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. To further dirty the waters, the Interior Department suspended a study intended to lead to safer drilling platforms. More drilling, fewer safety guidelines, what could go wrong?

Republican and Democratic governors of states affected by the plan criticized it — Long Island leaders will join in on Friday — 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 Florida’s term-limited GOP Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump ally whom the president 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 involves whether this approach is the best to attain energy independence, itself a worthy goal. Oil is cheap now thanks to domestic fracking, which leaves some oil company executives skeptical about riskier and more expensive drilling offshore and in remote places like Alaska, where there was a very weak response to a recent auction of 80,000 acres. Trump also keeps trying to prop up coal, but the industry is declining and even members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission appointed by Trump rejected his plan.

Instead of incentivizing the growing solar and wind industries and seeking a balance of energy sources, Trump this week levied tariffs on cheaper Chinese solar panels. Without also incentivizing domestic solar manufacturers, that not only threatens to make installations more expensive, it also will lead to the loss of an estimated 23,000 U.S. jobs.

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 the specter of oil on our beaches, in our waters and killing our fish and birds?