President Trump avoids government shutdown, plans more drilling

  • 29/04/2017
Donald Trump Getty
President Trump's order will reverse ex-President Obama's move to place parts of the Arctic permanently off limits to drilling (Getty)

US President Donald Trump is on the cusp of signing an executive order that would expand offshore oil and gas drilling moments after Congress voted to pass a spending bill that averted a government shutdown.

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where Republican leaders hope to take it up later in the day, approve it and send it to Mr Trump to sign into law.

The United States' stopgap fiscal bill

The bill in the Republican-led Congress provides federal funding until May 5, allowing lawmakers to hammer out legislation over the next few days to keep the government funded for the rest of the fiscal year that ends September 30.

Congress has been tied in knots over $1 trillion in spending priorities for months. Lawmakers were supposed to have taken care of the current fiscal year appropriations bills by last October 1.

Lawmakers' frustration at their inability to take care of the basic functions of government in a timely manner was on display on the House floor as debate opened.

"Let's make sure these basics are done for the American people and then let's get about the important business of changing their tax code and making sure they have the best healthcare in the world," said Republican Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma.

"We are seven months into the fiscal year," added Representative Nita Lowey of New York, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "Federal departments and agencies have been operating on outdated funding levels and policies for more than half of the year. This is unacceptable and it cannot continue."

Lowey noted the legislation voted on by the House was the third stopgap spending measure, called a continuing resolution, during the current fiscal year.

In addition to opposition from Democrats, there are deep divisions among Republicans over exactly how to change the tax code and overhaul the US healthcare system.

Trump's oil and gas energy executive order

Mr Trump will also sign an executive order that seeks to expand offshore oil and gas drilling to areas currently off limits, in his administration's latest move to expand domestic energy production.

The order could lead to a reversal of bans on drilling across swathes of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans and the US Gulf of Mexico that former President Barack Obama sought to protect from development.

"It is better to produce energy here than be held hostage by foreign entities," interior secretary Ryan Zinke said on Thursday in a briefing about the executive order, which will be called the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.

Trump campaigned on a promise to do away with Obama-era environmental protections that he said were hobbling energy development and undermining US national security without providing any tangible benefits. Industry cheered but environmental advocates were enraged.

Zinke said the order will require him to review and replace the Obama administration's most recent five-year oil and gas development plan for the outer continental shelf, which includes federal waters off all U.S. coasts.

The order will also reverse Obama's move to place parts of the Arctic permanently off limits to drilling, and encourage more seismic surveying to determine which areas are likely to hold rich reserves of oil and gas.

In addition, under the order Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will review previous presidents' designations of marine national monuments and sanctuaries under the 1906 Antiquities Act over the last 10 years.

Weeks before leaving office, Obama banned new oil and gas drilling in federal waters in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, protecting 115 million acres (46.5 million hectares) of waters off Alaska and 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic from New England to the Chesapeake Bay.

On Wednesday Trump signed a separate order to examine areas of federally managed land to determine if they were improperly designated as national monuments by former presidents, rendering them off limits to development.