Democratic Florida Sen. Ben Nelson is blocking the nominations of three Interior Department officials until agency chief Ryan Zinke officially exempts the Sunshine State from the Trump administration’s oil drilling plan.
Nelson, a Democrat, will maintain a “hold” on the nominees until Zinke updates the administration’s five-year drilling plan and “fully protects all of Florida’s coasts from the threat of both offshore drilling and seismic testing,” the senator said in a statement Wednesday. The DOI proposed opening nearly all federal waters to oil and gas drilling earlier this month.
Zinke announced he was taking Florida “off the table” for any new drilling after GOP Florida Gov. Rick Scott pushed back against the plan, but the agency chief has not hashed out updates, Nelson noted.
The Florida Democrat is targeting three crucial DOI nominees in the meantime: Susan Combs, nominee to be assistant secretary for policy, management, and budget; Ryan Nelson, nominated to be solicitor; and Steven Gardner, tabbed to be director of the office of surface mining, reclamation, and enforcement.
More than 90 percent of the total acres on the Outer Continental Shelf would be available for leasing if the draft proposal moves forward. It proposes 47 potential offshore lease sales, 19 sales off the Alaska coast, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, and nine in the Atlantic Ocean and seven in the Pacific. The plan is also subject to a 60-day comment period, so many of these proposals are just that – proposals that could change dramatically.
Nelson also floated the possibility that Zinke’s initial reaction to Scott’s criticism was a political ploy.
President Donald Trump’s move allowing Florida to opt out of the new policy was done to help Scott before he runs for Senate, Nelson and Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said in a statement shortly after the exemption was noted. Kaine is also annoyed that the DOI did not carve out exemptions for his states.
“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 FL,” Nelson wrote in a Jan. 10 tweet. Coastal states have become warier about offshore drilling since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010.
Republicans tried a similar tactic against EPA administrator Scott Pruitt last year during their fight to prevent a rollback of the biofuel mandate. Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley held up EPA nominees to pressure Trump into maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“Plenty of senators” are considering opposing Trump EPA picks, unless the agency backs off a plan to dial down the renewable fuel standard, Grassley said in a statement in October of 2017. Pruitt suggested dramatically reducing the standard – the Iowa Republican’s gambit worked; Pruitt relented, and his nominees were passed.
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