January 15, 2018
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke made a bombshell announcement this week regarding offshore oil drilling. After he met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Mr. Zinke decided to pull the federal waters off the coast of Florida from consideration as areas suitable for drilling for oil.
Mr. Zinke was quoted by The New York Times as saying, “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”
The immediate response was public outrage from all the other Atlantic Coast states being considered for offshore oil drilling.
Opponents of offshore drilling in the Atlantic are demanding to know why their state’s coast is not unique and why their dependence on coastal tourism dollars that drive their economies are not receiving the same favorable treatment.
Mr. Zinke’s decision to bypass the official regulatory process for developing a five-year plan for outer continental shelf oil leasing will have serious ramifications for his agency and the eventual oil leasing plan.
There is no question that he made a unilateral major decision based on a request from a Republican governor, one who is expected to run for the U.S. Senate in a highly competitive race. Congressional challenges aimed at protecting other Atlantic and Pacific Coast states may be forthcoming, and assuredly his action will be a basis for a future legal challenge to a final oil leasing plan.
However, Mr. Zinke’s decision and his public rationale for it has handed drilling opponents the affirmation of the primary argument for not drilling along the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.
Offshore drilling for oil is a highly risky process that will inevitably lead to oil leaks and spills that will harm local tourism economies. That was Governor Scott’s pitch and Mr. Zinke agreed.
Mr. Zinke is now on record as supporting this argument and abandoning the mantra of drilling advocates who maintain that the process is much safer now and chances of oil leaks and spills are very minimal.
Much to the chagrin of the professional regulators who work in Mr. Zinke’s agency, decisions on which states should be subject to having oil drilling off their coasts are no longer based on science, data, energy needs, economic impact or public input.
Decisions are now based simply on what is in the best political interest of this administration.
Frank Knapp Jr.
President and CEO
Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast
S.C. Small Business Chamber of Commerce