WASHINGTON — When President Donald Trump signed his “energy independence” executive order Tuesday, he made no mention of making it easier for energy companies to drill for oil in national parks. But tucked into his 2,300-word order is a sentence that could do just that, potentially affecting national park lands in Florida, Kentucky, Texas and other states.
At issue are national parks where the federal government owns the surface lands but private entities retain the underground mineral rights. Some 42 park properties nationwide fall into this category, and energy companies are drilling for oil and gas in 12 of those, according to the Interior Department.
Last year, the Obama administration finalized rules aimed at regulating drilling operations on national park land that previously had been exempt. The new rules also required energy companies to provide adequate bonding to ensure that spills would be cleaned up and drilling sites restored to their natural look once operations ceased.
Trump’s order directs the interior secretary to review and possibly rescind those rules — known as the 9B rules, or “General Provisions and Non-Federal Oil and Gas Rights” — if they are inconsistent with his energy goals.
Environmental groups are protesting the move, saying it conflicts with the National Park Service’s mandate to protect the nation’s parks.
Nicholas Lund, a senior manager with the National Park Conservation Association, said it was “inconceivable” that Trump would seek to turn back the clock on regulating oil rigs in national parks. “These rules are not overly burdensome and they go a long way to ensuring our parks have the protection they deserve,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke suggested that critics are overreacting. “Secretary Zinke has made his love of our parks clear,” spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email. “Interior is reviewing a number of rules and regulations under the executive order and has no plans to loosen regulations on energy development in national parks or allow new development in additional parks.”
Trump’s directive Tuesday launched the process of rescinding a range of Obama-era policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions and promoting alternative energy in keeping with goals set out in a global agreement on climate change signed in Paris last year. Speaking before a group of coal miners at the headquarters of the EPA, Trump said he was taking “historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion and to cancel job-killing regulations.”