Lawmakers Want To Know Why Zinke Caved To Florida On Offshore Drilling

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Tim Pearce Energy Reporter
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House Democrats want Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to explain whether or not Florida waters will be a part of President Donald Trump’s administration’s plan to roll back an offshore drilling ban on millions of acres of federal water.

Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee (NRC) sent a letter to GOP Rep. and committee chairman Rob Bishop Thursday, asking for another full committee hearing with the Interior secretary.

“It is clear that we do not know the entire story about how the first draft of the [Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)] 5-year program was put together,” the letter read.

Zinke gave confusing statements on whether or not Florida will be part of a plan to open the U.S. OCS to offshore oil and gas leasing. Florida would be left off the draft version of the plan, Zinke tweeted in January. He has since walked that back.

“Had I left Florida off in the beginning, it would have been arbitrary and capricious,” Zinke told members of the NRC at a hearing in early March. “But Florida is still in the process.”

Zinke still appears to be committed to his original position and pointed out during the hearing that Florida was different than other states. Every member of Florida’s congressional delegation opposed offshore drilling in the state; Florida is part of a moratorium banning offshore drilling until 2022. Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott also opposed offshore development in Florida.

Zinke met with Scott immediately before the Interior secretary exempted Florida from the OCS plan. The meeting’s circumstances and forthright exemption led some to claim the move was political, not based on sound policy, according to Politico.

“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,” Florida Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson said shortly after Zinke’s original Florida announcement. “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.”

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