Trump administration exempts Florida from offshore drilling expansion after pressure from Republican governor

Decision spurs criticism of special treatment 

Jeremy B. White
San Francisco
Wednesday 10 January 2018 02:35
An offshore oil platform is seen in Huntington Beach, California
An offshore oil platform is seen in Huntington Beach, California

The Trump administration has exempted Florida from a vast expansion of offshore oil drilling, mollifying the state's Republican governor and angering Democrats.

Continuing its effort to unravel Barack Obama’s environmental legacy, the administration announced last week that it would open virtually all offshore waters to oil and gas exploration — a stark reversal of Mr Obama’s move to prohibit energy extraction across hundreds of millions of acres of ocean.

While the change drew praise from top Republicans and energy industry officials, it also generated a bipartisan backlash from elected officials in states that border the ocean — among them Florida’s Republican governor and senator, who warned of environmental degradation. The state is also home to Mr Trump's opulent Mar-a-Lago club, a frequent destination he has taken to calling the "winter White House".

Acknowledging Florida Gov Rick Scott's concerns, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said in a statement that national energy policy must incorporate “the local and state voice” and backed Mr Scott’s request to block new drilling off his state’s coast after meeting with him.

“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. “As a result of discussion with Governor Scott’s and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

Governor Rick Scott at the White House

The special treatment drew a furious response from some Democrats who wondered why their states were not given a similar deal.

“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,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on Twitter. “If that's your standard, we, too, should be removed from your list. Immediately.”

The West Coast’s trio of Democratic governors has been united in opposing new offshore energy exploration, responding to last week’s announcement with a joint statement warning of “the utter devastation of past offshore oil spills to wildlife and to the fishing, recreation and tourism industries in our states”.

Virginia governor-elect Ralph Northam, a Democrat, had a similar request, as did a Democratic senator from Massachusetts.

But resistance has not been restricted to Democrats. Republican governors of coastal states have also warned of unwanted consequences. Maryland governor Larry Hogan called for legal measures to stymie drilling in his state’s coastal waters, while South Carolina governor Henry McMaster made a similar argument to Mr Scott.

“We don't want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg. We don't want to take any chances. Our tourism industry is one of the finest in the United States,” Mr McMaster told reporters last week, according to the Post and Courier.

“Our coast is an economic engine, just like other industries we have. We have to be sure that we do nothing to endanger lives, the people, the natural resources that represent our coast”.

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