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Donald Trump announces vast expansion of offshore drilling off US coast

The Trump administration has moved to vastly expand offshore drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic oceans with a plan to open up waters off the California coast for the first time in more than three decades.

The new five-year drilling plan also could open new areas of oil and gas exploration in areas off the East Coast from Georgia to Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades.

Many politicians in those states support offshore drilling, although the Democratic governors of North Carolina and Virginia oppose drilling off their state coasts.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, also opposes offshore drilling near his state, as do the three Democratic governors on the West Coast.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the plan on Thursday, saying responsible development of offshore energy resources would boost jobs and economic security while providing billions of dollars to fund conservation along US coastlines.

The five-year plan would open 90% of the nation's offshore reserves to development by private companies, he said, with 47 leases proposed off the nation's coastlines between 2019 and 2024.

Nineteen sales would be off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific, including six off California's coast.

Industry groups praised the announcement, which would be the most expansive offshore drilling proposal in decades.

The proposal follows President Donald Trump's executive order in April encouraging more drilling rights in federal waters, part of the administration's strategy to help the US achieve "energy dominance" in the global market.

"To kick off a national discussion, you need a national plan - something that has been lacking the past several years," said Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association.

A coalition of more than 60 environmental groups denounced the plan, saying it would impose "severe and unacceptable harm" to America's oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.

"These ocean waters are not President Trump's personal playground.

"They belong to all Americans and the public wants them preserved and protected, not sold off to multinational oil companies," read the coalition statement, which was signed by leaders of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defence Council, League of Conservation Voters and other environmental groups.

They said the " extreme proposal is a shameful giveaway" to the oil and gas industry, which supported Mr Trump in the election campaign.

The proposal comes less than a week after the Trump administration proposed to rewrite or kill rules on offshore oil and gas drilling imposed after the deadly 2010 rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The accident on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and triggered the biggest offshore oil spill in US history.

The Trump administration called the rules an unnecessary burden on industry and said rolling them back will encourage more energy production.

Environmentalists said Mr Trump was raising the risk of more deadly oil spills.

Mr Scott said he has asked for an immediate meeting with Mr Zinke to discuss his concerns, adding: "My top priority is to ensure that Florida's natural resources are protected."


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