Trump Administration Drops Florida From Offshore Drilling Plan

The New York Times

January 9, 2018


The Trump administration said Tuesday it had ruled out drilling for oil and gas off the coast of Florida after strong opposition from the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke moved last week to allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters, opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard to potential leases. The decision prompted an outcry from Republican and Democratic governors alike on both coasts.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Mr. Zinke said in a statement after meeting Governor Scott in Florida. “I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

Mr. Zinke’s reversal underscored the deep unpopularity of a plan that would undo one of the environmental legacies of the Obama administration. But the administration’s proposal is also a signal that President Trump is not done rolling back environmental restrictions to bolster domestic energy production.

The Obama administration blocked drilling on about 94 percent of the outer continental shelf, the submerged offshore area between state coastal waters and the deep ocean. Mr. Zinke argued that the restrictions had cost the country billions of dollars in lost oil and gas revenue.

But the move to lift the ban on drilling also put the Trump administration at odds with a number of coastal states. The governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington have all opposed offshore drilling plans.

“My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected,” Governor Scott said last week.

Both of Florida’s senators, Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, opposed the plan, along with 20 representatives from Florida’s 27-member congressional delegation.

Mr. Nelson criticized the move as political posturing, and said he did not believe Mr. Zinke would fully exempt Florida from the plan.

“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. But now, suddenly, Secretary Zinke announces plans to drill off Florida’s coast and four days later agrees to ‘take Florida off the table’?” Mr. Nelson said in a statement. “I don’t believe it. This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott.”

Florida lawmakers of both parties have long opposed offshore drilling, saying it could harm the state’s tourism industry, which was hit hard after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico sent waves of oil to the state’s shores in 2010.

Environmental groups accused Mr. Zinke of currying political favor with Governor Scott while pushing ahead with opening up coastal waters elsewhere.

“Such a quick reversal begs the question: Will the Trump administration give equal consideration to all the other coastal governors from both parties who overwhelmingly reject this radical offshore drilling plan?” said Diane Hoskins, a spokeswoman for the ocean conservation group Oceana.

In a post on Twitter addressed to Mr. Zinke, Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, demanded that drilling also be banned off his state’s shores.

Interior officials had said they intended to hold nearly 50 lease sales between 2019 and 2024, including 19 off the coast of Alaska and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico. Seven areas offered for new drilling would be in Pacific waters off California, where drilling has been off limits for decades.

But finalizing the new plan could take as long as 18 months, experts said, and challenges are expected in the courts and in Congress.

The National Ocean Industries Association, which represents the offshore drilling industry, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move to open America’s coastal waters to drilling is the latest in a series of efforts to reverse restrictions on energy production. The Interior Department has also repealed offshore drilling safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

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