The Trump administration said Tuesday that it would not allow oil drilling off the coast of Florida, abruptly reversing course under pressure from the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott.
Interior secretary Ryan Zinke said after a brief meeting with Scott that drilling would be “off the table” when it comes to waters in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean off Florida.
Zinke announced plans last week to greatly expand offshore oil drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic and Pacific oceans, including several possible drilling operations off Florida, where drilling is now blocked. The plan was immediately met with bipartisan opposition on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Scott, who is expected to run for Senate later this year, came out against the Trump administration plan when it was first announced, saying his top priority was to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.
Other Republican governors also oppose the plan, including Larry Hogan of Maryland, Henry McMaster of South Carolina, and Charles Baker of Massachusetts.
Donald Trump, who frequently spends time in Florida, won the state’s 29 electoral votes in the 2016 election and has encouraged Scott to run for Senate.
Zinke said Tuesday that “Florida is obviously unique” and that the decision to remove the state came after meetings and discussion with Scott.
“For Floridians we are not drilling off the coast of Florida, which clearly the governor has expressed that’s important,” Zinke said.
When he announced the proposal last week, he knew it would spark discussion across the country, Zinke said.
“Our tactic was open everything up, then meet with the governors, meet with the stakeholders so that when we shaped it, it was right,” he told reporters at a news conference Tuesday night. “The president made it very clear that local voices count.”
When asked what caused the administration to change its position on Florida drilling, Zinke said bluntly: “The governor.”
Florida’s Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, said the meeting with Zinke was “a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott”, who Nelson said has long wanted to drill off Florida’s coast.
“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 (five) days later agrees to ‘take Florida off the table’? I don’t believe it,” Nelson said in a statement. “We shouldn’t be playing politics with the future of Florida.”
Zinke said last week that the drilling plan called for responsible development that would boost jobs and economic security while providing billions of dollars to fund conservation along US coastlines.
The five-year plan would open 90% of the nation’s offshore reserves to development by private companies, Zinke said, with 47 leases proposed off the nation’s coastlines from 2019 to 2024. Nineteen sales would be off Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific, including six off California.
Industry groups praised the announcement, the most expansive offshore drilling proposal in decades. The plan follows Trump’s executive order in April encouraging more drilling rights in federal waters, part of the administration’s strategy to help the US achieve “energy dominance” in the global market.
A coalition of more than 60 environmental groups denounced the plan, saying it would impose “severe and unacceptable harm” to America’s oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.