WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced late Tuesday that at the recommendation of Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) — whom he called a “straightforward leader that can be trusted” — he will remove the state’s coastal waters from consideration for future offshore oil drilling.
The decision came just days after the Trump administration released a sweeping new proposal to open nearly all U.S. waters, including huge swaths of the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, to oil exploration.
“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 on Twitter. “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”
Zinke had flown to Tallahassee on Tuesday to discuss the issue with Scott, a staunch Trump ally, in person.
Scott had publicly pushed back against the administration’s offshore proposal last week — even before there was an official announcement.
“I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration,” the governor said at the time.
The draft plan released last week covers 25 of 26 offshore planning areas and makes available for lease roughly 90 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The administration has identified 47 potential lease sales — “the largest number of lease sales ever proposed” — including 19 off the coast of Alaska and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, Zinke said during a call with reporters last week.
If approved, the five-year plan would be in effect from 2019 to 2024.
Scott is expected to make a run for Senate this year, challenging Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a longtime opponent of offshore drilling. Nelson was quick to dismiss Zinke’s decision Tuesday as a “political stunt.”
“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts,” Nelson tweeted on Tuesday. “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 FL.”
Environmental groups also questioned Zinke’s motivations.
Sierra Weaver, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center ― which led the charge to have Atlantic waters removed from the current five-year leasing plan ― said that if the decision had been about anything other than politics, Zinke would have also announced the removal of the waters off Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, “where offshore drilling has already been rejected by local and state voices.”
“The fact is that an oil spill doesn’t know or care where one state ends and another begins ― and Florida remains at risk, just like all states in the Mid- and South Atlantic,” Weaver said in a statement.
But Zinke has not withdrawn any other offshore areas from consideration, despite pleas from governors and lawmakers up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts — a point that was also not lost on Democratic leaders from other states.