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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration reversed course on Tuesday on a proposal to open the southeastern Atlantic coast to drilling as an oil price slump and strong opposition in coastal communities raised doubts about the plan.

Besides market and environmental concerns, the U.S. Interior Department said it also based its decision on conflicts with competing commercial and military ocean uses.

The decision, which is sure to reverberate in the presidential election campaign, reverses a January 2015 proposal for new leases in the Atlantic as part of the department’s five-year plan to set new boundaries for oil development in federal waters through 2022.

“We heard from many corners that now is not the time to offer oil and gas leasing off the Atlantic coast,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

“When you factor in conflicts with national defense, economic activities such as fishing and tourism, and opposition from many local communities, it simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years.”

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner in the race for the Democratic Party’s nomination to run in the Nov. 8 presidential election, has moved to the left on environment under pressure from green groups. She tweeted: “Relieved Atlantic drilling is now off the table. Time to do the next right thing and protect the Arctic, too.”

Donald Trump, the businessman and former reality TV personality who is the Republican front-runner, has raised questions about whether more offshore drilling is necessary given the abundance of onshore shale production.

The proposal would have opened up drilling sites more than 50 miles off Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia to oil drilling by 2021.

Coastal communities in these states protested the administration’s plan, fearing the possibility of an oil spill like the BP Horizon accident in 2010 on the U.S. Gulf Coast, and its effects on tourism and their economies.

“With this decision coastal communities have won a ‘David vs. Goliath’ fight against the richest companies on the planet, and that is a cause for tremendous optimism for the well-being of future generations,” said Jacqueline Savitz, environmental group Oceana’s vice president for U.S. oceans.

Virginia officials had welcomed the initial plan to allow offshore drilling, saying it would bring economic benefits. On Tuesday, Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, said he was surprised that the Department of Defense had raised concerns about naval installations, one of which is off the state’s coast.

“The DOD has been relatively quiet during this public debate and has never shared their objections with me before,” he said.

 

Objections

Major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil Corp, Shell and Chevron, had pushed for an open Atlantic.

Shell Oil Company spokeswoman Natalie Mazey said the decision was “short sighted” and would “jeopardize the abundance of affordable domestic energy the economy has become dependent on.”

The American Petroleum Institute said the decision goes against the will of voters, governors and members of Congress who support more development.

“The decision appeases extremists who seek to stop oil and natural gas production which would increase the cost of energy for American consumers and close the door for years to creating new jobs, new investments and boosting energy security,” said API President Jack Gerard.

The Interior Department also announced Tuesday that it would evaluate 13 other potential lease sales in other areas of the country – 10 in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska.

“The proposal focuses potential lease sales in areas with the highest resource potential, greatest industry interest, and established infrastructure,” Jewell said.

The Interior Department said that in the Gulf, resource potential and industry interest are high and infrastructure already exists.

It proposes two annual lease sales that include the Western, Central, and part of the eastern Gulf of Mexico not subject to the current congressional moratorium.

It also includes a potential sale each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, and Cook Inlet planning areas in Alaska. The department would take comments on other options, including an alternative that includes no new leasing.

 

Concerns About Arctic

While green groups praised the decision to keep the Atlantic off limits for now, they raised concerns that the United States would keep the door open for drilling in the vulnerable U.S. Arctic.

“The administration must take Arctic leases out of the final five-year plan,” said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “No place has potentially more to lose due to climate change than the Arctic.”

The Interior Department will open the five-year proposal to a 90-day comment period.

 

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, additional reporting by Timothy Gardner and Ernest Scheyder in Houston; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)

Photo: Marine One, carrying President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie,  take an aerial tour of the Atlantic Coast in New Jersey in areas damaged by superstorm Sandy, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, Pool)

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]