Florida’s coastal waters are safe from any future offshore oil and gas development, President Donald Trump boasted in an interview with Spectrum News last week.
“We’re not gonna be drilling, and I’ve already put out that order ― actually quite a while ago,” he said when asked if he could commit to not drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. “We can’t do that. And the people of Florida just don’t want it. You know, there are some states that don’t mind it, but Florida does. And I live here too, and I vote here. And I will tell you, that’s not going to be happening.”
Aside from the hypocrisy of proposing to open nearly all U.S. waters to fossil fuel development while declaring “not in my backyard” for Florida, the “order” Trump claims to have put out appears to be a figment of his imagination.
Trump has issued no such order, but it’s not the first time he’s touted a seemingly nonexistent decree.
The White House sent an off-the-record comment in response to questions about the purported offshore directive. The official did not include anything HuffPost could actually use in this article.
A spokesman for the Interior Department, the agency that oversees offshore oil and gas development, told HuffPost via email that “the President’s remarks speak for itself” and declined to answer any questions or direct HuffPost to where it might find said order.
Trump appears to be taking credit for former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s announcement in January 2018 that, on the recommendation of then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) — whom he called a “straightforward leader that can be trusted” — he was taking Florida “off the table for offshore oil and gas.” Many saw the decision as a political favor for Scott, a vocal Trump ally, ahead of his run for Senate. The director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management later told Congress that “the secretary’s statement stands on its own” and was “not a formal action,” and Zinke himself acknowledged “no one was exempted.”
The administration’s plan to expand offshore drilling remains on hold.
Diane Hoskins, a campaign director at ocean advocacy group Oceana, said that Trump’s remarks are encouraging but “a far cry from any official protections” for the area.
“Will President Trump give other states that oppose offshore drilling the same assurances?” she asked. “And will he immediately and formally withdraw his radical plan to expand drilling to nearly all waters?”
Trump’s public proclamation on offshore drilling is reminiscent of his response to the devastating 2018 wildfires in California ― the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season in the state’s history. In a January 2019 post to Twitter, Trump declared that he had “ordered” the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cut off wildfire relief aid for fire-scorched California until state officials “get their act together” and do a better job of managing forests, despite the fact that many of the infernos primarily burned on federally managed lands.
That came after the administration used the disasters to push partisan policy, connecting the infernos to a yearslong fight between farmers and environmentalists over water resources.
The White House and FEMA did not respond to HuffPost’s numerous requests seeking clarification at the time. The following month, a FEMA official told BuzzFeed News that the agency “never got any such directive” from Trump.
When tornadoes ravaged the ruby-red state of Alabama in March 2019, Trump took a much different tone. “FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been so devastated by the Tornadoes,” he wrote.
Much like the other cases, there is no record of a directive beyond Trump’s Twitter post.
More recently, the president has made sweeping ― and false ― statements about his power to order states to reopen amid one of the worst pandemics in a century.
“When somebody’s the president of the United States, the authority is total. And that is the way it’s gonna be,” Trump told reporters in April when pressed about his plans to force governors to restart their economies. “It’s total.”
He made a similar declaration the following month about his authority to force states to deem churches as essential services during the pandemic.
“Allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now for this weekend,” he said. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”
Rachel Laser, a lawyer at Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was among many who challenged Trump’s rhetoric. “The president doesn’t have that power,” she told Politico. “The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution forbids the federal government from strong-arming the states.”
Asked what provision of federal law allows the president to override a governor’s order, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany dodged, instead accusing reporters of “desperately” wanting to see places of worship remain shuttered.
While Trump fancies himself an all-powerful ruler and has a history of referencing nonexistent orders, he has issued a slew of real ones with great fanfare ― on everything from advancing construction of fossil fuel pipelines to targeting social media companies that have fact-checked his misleading claims. In fact, he signed more executive orders in his first 100 days than any other president in history, although many resulted in little concrete change or were blocked by the courts.
His use of them is not without irony. “I don’t like them,” Trump said of executive orders while on the campaign trail in January 2016. “And our country wasn’t based on executive orders.”