New Jersey Sues White House Over Offshore Drilling

WASHINGTON (CN) – New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to find out why the Trump administration denied the state’s request to be exempted from offshore oil and gas drilling while letting Florida off the hook.

Grewal filed the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit after waiting six months for the Department of the Interior to respond to his request for information that would shed light on why Florida was exempted from the administration’s National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

At the heart of his inquiry is a Jan. 9 meeting between interior secretary Ryan Zinke and Florida’s Republican governor.

“Although DOI has ignored New Jersey’s request, DOI granted an exemption from offshore drilling to Florida—the same day DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke had a meeting with Florida Governor Rick Scott,” the 8-page complaint says, abbreviating Department of the Interior.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit claims that the Interior Department has ignored New Jersey’s longstanding objections to offshore oil and gas drilling, along with its calls to remove its coastal areas and those of adjacent states from the program.

“Despite the vociferous objections of other coastal states along the Atlantic OCS, including New Jersey, secretary Zinke and DOI have not indicated that any other state would be removed from the 2019-2014 Oil and Gas Leasing Program,” the lawsuit says, abbreviating outer continental shelf.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Grewal by Robert Kinney with the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

On Wednesday Grewal tweeted about the lawsuit, saying that his state “deserves an explanation” about why Florida got an exemption while New Jersey didn’t.

“Today, we’re suing for answers,” he tweeted.

According to the lawsuit, Grewal requested records that would reflect communications, meetings and consultations between Zinke and Scott related to the Interior Department’s decision to exempt Florida from the program.

The National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program would open waters along the Atlantic coast to oil and natural gas drilling from Maine to Florida, which New Jersey says it objected to because of harm to natural resources, the economy and the coastline.

The program would also dramatically expand continental-shelf waters available for future oil and gas exploration and development in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico.

Zinke announced the program in Jan. 4 press release, noting that it would open up more than 90 percent of outer continental shelf acreage for “the largest number of lease sales in U.S. history.”

In contrast, the Obama administration made 94 percent of that acreage off limits to oil and gas exploration.

The Department of the Interior did not immediately return an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.

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