Staff Writer Jax Gay
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Tuesday that he won’t allow offshore drilling in waters near Florida through 2024.
The decision came after Zinke met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) in Tallahassee earlier in the day to discuss the governor's objections. It was day after Zinke proposed opening nearly all of the nation’s coasts to drilling.
“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 in a statement.
“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” he continued.
“As a result of discussion with Gov. Scott's [sic] and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”
Scott is expected to run this year for Senate. He would challenge incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D), who has for more than three decades fought offshore drilling and made it a central policy of his platform.
The governors of nearly all states along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts have joined Scott in calling for their shores to be removed from Zinke’s plan, but Zinke has not ruled any other area out at this stage in the process.
“Virginia’s governor (and governor-elect) have made this same request, but we have not received the same commitment,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tweeted Tuesday, referring to incumbent Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and incoming Gov. Ralph Northam (D). “Wonder why…”
Florida is the home state of Mar-a-Lago, a resort club that Trump owns, visits often during the winter and has dubbed the “Winter White House.” It sits on the Atlantic coast in Palm Beach.
Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said that both the eastern third of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean adjacent to Florida would be taken out of consideration for the plan that covers drilling rights sales from 2019 to 2024.
Scott had quickly come out in opposition to drilling off Florida's coasts last week when Zinke announced the Trump administration’s proposal to consider oil and gas drilling in nearly every area off the nation’s coasts, including the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts and around Alaska.
Drilling has long been banned around Florida, with strong bipartisan support from the state’s politicians.
Twenty-one members of Florida’s delegation to Congress wrote to Zinke on Tuesday asking him to remove the state.
Nelson was skeptical Tuesday of Zinke’s reversal.
“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’? I don’t believe it,” he said in a statement.
“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.”
Zinke’s proposal last week is the first step in the process for crafting a plan for lease sales. After gathering public comment on the proposal, Interior will craft another proposal, before finalizing the areas that will be available for drilling.