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Trump Administration U-Turn on Florida Offshore Drilling Sparks Backlash

The sudden reversal Tuesday by the Department of Interior to drop Florida from a draft proposal to expand U.S. offshore drilling sparked criticism from other coastal state leaders also opposed.

Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott had said he would push Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to revise the federal draft proposed plan (DPP) for 2019-2024 that was issued earlier this month.

The DPP would sharply expand Outer Continental Shelf waters across the country to exploration and development. However, the proposal has been derided by about a dozen coastal state leaders, who have cited tourism and ecosystem concerns.

Zinke ensured Scott, a term-limited governor who is considering a Senate bid, was given credit. The Interior chief met with Scott in Tallahassee, FL, on Tuesday before announcing that the state would be excluded.

“You have a tremendous governor that is straightforward, easy to work for, says exactly what he means,” Zinke said. “And I can tell you Florida is well served.”

Posting his decision on Twitter, the Interior chief said, “I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique, and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of discussion with Gov. Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

Zinke said President Trump had directed Interior to consider “the local and state voice” as the revamped drilling policy is scrutinized under public comment before it could be finalized. The process is expected to take at least a year.

“By removing Florida from consideration, we can now focus on how we can further protect our environment,” Scott said. “I will never stop fighting for Florida’s environment and our pristine coastline.”

Leaders from other coastal states jumped to shame Interior’s decision, noting that Florida, considered an election “swing” state, is the home of Mar-A-Lago, one of Trump’s golf resorts and a frequent getaway for the president.

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said Scott may have achieved a political coup, but he called it a sham as Scott long advocated opening up Florida’s waters to drilling.

“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,” Nelson said.

In his first campaign for governor in 2010, Scott called for Florida’s offshore drilling moratorium to be lifted, according to Politifact. “We can't do drilling until we do it safely,” Scott told CNN in 2010. “You don't put in a moratorium. Let's figure out how we can do it safely.”

Coastal drilling today only is allowed offshore Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and parts of Alaska and California, a policy that keeps off limits 94% of U.S. waters, according to Interior.

The DPP unveiled earlier this month would allow drilling in 90% of the coastal waters, Zinke said.

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said Zinke’s decision to withdraw Florida won’t withstand court challenges, which are sure to come.

“This president makes up any rule, at any time, for any reason, whenever it suits him, and congressional Republicans applaud him every step of the way,” Grijalva said.

The offshore industry, keen to drill in the eastern Gulf of Mexico offshore Florida, long off limits, also was not happy with Zinke’s decision, which is “disappointing and premature,” said National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi.

“Removing areas offshore Florida this early in the planning process prematurely curtails dialogue and thorough study of the possibilities for future development of offshore resources that could provide additional energy and jobs for working Floridians,” Luthi said.

The reversal for Florida led to immediate calls by other state leaders on the East and West coasts who are opposed to offshore drilling.

New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted, “New York doesn’t want drilling off our coast either. Where do we sign up for a waiver @SecretaryZinke?” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown tweeted, “Hey @secretaryzinke, how about doing the same for #Oregon?”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra used some of Zinke’s statement regarding Florida to make his point on Twitter. “California is also ‘unique’ & our ‘coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.’ Our ‘local and state voice’ is firmly opposed to any and all offshore drilling...If that's your standard, we, too, should be removed from your list. Immediately.”

Removing Florida from drilling consideration provides fodder for lawsuits, wrote California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, who is an attorney.

“Taking #Florida off the table for offshore drilling but not #California violates the legal standard of arbitrary and capricious agency action,” Lieu wrote on Twitter. “California and other coastal states also rely on our beautiful coasts for tourism and our economy. I believe courts will strike this down.”

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