President Donald Trump signed an executive order Friday restarting exploration of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic coast.
The action could set up a legal confrontation over whether the Trump administration has the power to override a drilling ban in those areas that President Barack Obama instituted in the final weeks of his administration.
Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said he would challenge the order, if he deems it necessary.
Trump called his executive action "another historic step" toward increased domestic energy production.
"Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless good jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent," he said at a White House press conference.
The order directs Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review locations available for offshore drilling under a five-year plan Obama signed in November. The plan blocked new oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans — in the latter, areas from Virginia to South Carolina.
Trump's order could also reopen the door to the use of seismic surveys by energy companies to map potential drilling sites for oil and natural gas elsewhere in the Atlantic.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President Kim Coble called that "a direct attack on the health and economic vitality of the Chesapeake Bay." Pollution from the energy industry or from an oil spill could devastate an entire cohort of blue crabs, which spend the first months of their lives as larvae floating in the Atlantic, near the mouth of the bay.
"Offshore drilling creates a new pollution source, one capable of significant, even devastating environmental damage from drilling, transportation, storage, or refinement," she said.
The energy industry lauded the Trump administration as it took another step dismantling Obama-era policies they criticized as job-killing. The oil and gas industry has pushed for Atlantic drilling and pledged that exploration would be done safely, with lessons applied from the disastrous 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"We are pleased to see this administration prioritizing responsible U.S. energy development and recognizing the benefits it will bring to American consumers and businesses," American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard said in a statement. "Developing our abundant offshore energy resources is a critical part of a robust, forward-looking energy policy that will secure our nation's energy future and strengthen the U.S. energy renaissance."
To ban the offshore drilling, Obama used a relatively obscure provision of a 63-year-old environmental law intended to protect environmentally sensitive areas. His administration said the action could not be undone by a future president, though it could by Congress.
Frosh said that law could come into play as environmentalists seek to challenge Trump's order. He called prevention of Atlantic drilling "a significant priority" as he looks to use expanded powers and resources the General Assembly recently awarded him to sue the Trump administration.
"Certainly we'll take advantage of every opportunity to express our opposition to it," he said in an interview. "If they're foolish enough to move ahead with it, we'll see what avenues are available to challenge."
Any drilling in the areas Trump moved to open is a long way off — if a path is cleared. Zinke said he expects review of drilling plans to take several years.