Trump extends oil drilling moratorium off Florida coast

President Donald Trump signs an executive order extending the ban on offshore drilling as he speaks about the environment during a stop at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse on September 8, 2020 in Jupiter, Florida

President Donald Trump, normally an enthusiastic proponent of the oil industry, on Tuesday announced he was extending a 10-year moratorium on drilling off the coast of Florida, a gesture aimed at bolstering his support in the battleground state ahead of November's election.

"In a few moments I will sign a presidential order extending the moratorium on offshore drilling on Florida’s Gulf Coast and expanding it to Florida’s Atlantic Coast as well as the coast of Georgia and South Carolina," Trump said at an event in Jupiter, Florida. 

The moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which had been due to expire in 2022, will now run until 2032 and be extended to the Atlantic coast of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

"After many conversations with @realDonaldTrump on the importance of keeping FL's coastlines pristine, I'm glad he's extending the moratorium for another 10 years," said Florida senator Rick Scott, a former Republican governor of the state, on Twitter.

Trump's Democratic rival for the White House, Joe Biden, was quick to point out that "just months ago, Donald Trump was planning to allow oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida. Now, with 56 days until the election, he conveniently says that he changed his mind. Unbelievable."

The decision contrasts sharply with earlier actions taken by the Trump administration, which in mid-August approved a move that will open the way for oil and gas drilling in a pristine wildlife reserve in Alaska that is home to polar bears.

In 2018, the White House said it would open almost all of US coastal waters up to oil and gas drilling, a decision that was met with opposition in numerous states and that is still being challenged in the courts.

Florida will be a key battleground state in the November election. In 2016, Trump won it by a thin margin thanks to senior citizens, but this year Biden has a very narrow edge on the incumbent.