Florida Exempted From White House Offshore Drilling Plan

WASHINGTON (CN) – Waters off the coast of Florida will not be opened to oil and gas drilling for now, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Tuesday.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott was one of the first public officials to decry an announcement last week that the Interior Department intends to lift a 30-year-old ban on drilling in coastal waters extending from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Arctic Ocean in the West.

On Tuesday, Zinke flew to Tallahassee to meet with Scott and shortly afterward issued a statement saying he supported “the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

“President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice,” Zinke said. “As a result of discussion with Governor Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

Scott is not alone in opposing the Interior Department proposal, which would open up 47 oil and gas exploration leases for sale, including six off the California coast, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and 19 off the coast of Alaska.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra described the proposal as a “non-starter.”

“California is also ‘unique’ & our coats are heavily reliant on tourism as economic driver. Our ‘local and state voice’ is firmly opposed to any and all offshore drilling. If that’s your standard, we, too, should be removed from your list. Immediately,” Becerra tweeted.

Others opposing the plan include Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker.

McMaster, who enforsed President Trump early in the 2016 presidential campaign, said Wednesday he intends to ask the administration to exempt the state from an upcoming expansion of offshore drilling.

“We cannot afford to take a chance with the beauty, the majesty and the economic value and vitality of our wonderful coastline,” McMaster told reporters Wednesday, according to Charleston’s Post and Courier.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., took to Twitter on Tuesday, questioning why Zinke has yet to respond to their concerns.

“Virginia’s governor [Terry McAuliffe] and governor-elect [Ralph Northam] have made this request, but we have not received the same commitment. Wonder why …” Kaine said.

Former White House ethics chief Walter Shaub was less coy with his speculation, slamming Zinke’s decision to exempt Florida from the oil and gas program.

“So you are exempting the state that is home to the festering cankerous conflict of interest that the administration likes to call the ‘Winter White House’ and none of the other affected states?” Shaub tweeted Tuesday, referring to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property.

Shaub, who left his post at the Office of Government Ethics in July, continued.

“Go look up ‘Banana Republic’ then go fly a Zinke flag to celebrate making us one,” Shaub tweeted.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was not convinced that Florida’s reprieve from the offshore drilling plan was anything more than political posturing ahead of the this year’s gubernatorial election in the state.

Nelson, who is expected to challenge Scott in the contest,  said “I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rights away from our coasts. This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott who has wanted to drill off Florida’s coast his entire career.”

“We shouldn’t be playing politics with the future of Florida,” the senator said.

Jim Gross, executive director of Florida Defenders of the Environment, is also opposed to the Interior Department proposal.

“We need to begin the process of moving away from fossil fuels,” Gross told Courthouse News Wednesday. “So, yes, closing Florida’s coast to oil and gas drilling is a step in the right direction.”

But Gross is concerned that Florida’s Republican governor opposed the drilling proposal as a matter of political expedience.

“I suspect he has only embraced this issue for political expedience,” the environmentalist said. “I would not expect him to show much commitment to a ban were he to succeed in winning another election.  This is just about the only positive step he has taken as governor in terms of environmental protection.”

Scott has a mixed record on the issue of offshore drilling.

After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, an explosion on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect rig that left 11 dead and dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Scott opposed the Obama administration’s six-month ban on deepwater drilling.

But in 2011, Scott walked his support of then-presidential candidate  Michele Bachmann after the Minnesota Republican proposed drilling for oil in Florida’s Everglades.

Scott could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

An Interior Department spokeswoman told Courthouse News Wednesday she was “unaware of a scheduling request from Virginia’s governor” to discuss offshore drilling.

“But generally speaking, the secretary is constantly talking with and meeting with governors of both parties on a number of issues,” she said.

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