Dem coastal governors cry foul on Florida 'no-drilling' status

By Jason Lanning , Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, January 12, 2018, 8:45 AM EST

A last-minute decision making Florida exempt from offshore drilling is causing some lawmakers nationwide to question the move. 

  • Trump administration will not allow oil drilling off Florida coast
  • Decision causes concern with Democratic governors from coastal states
  • Some say difference is Florida has Republican governor

Democrats from coastal states are accusing the Trump administration of punishing their states and rewarding Republican governor Rick Scott. 

Democrats said Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke were being hypocritical by agreeing to a request by Florida's Republican governor to withdraw from the drilling plan, but not making the same accommodation to states with Democratic governors.

But lawmakers from states like California, Oregon and Washington say they too made requests to stop offshore drilling but were ignored. 

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California said on Twitter that his state, "like Florida, has hundreds of miles of beautiful coastline and a governor who wants to keep it that way. Or is that not enough for blue states?"

"If local voices matter why haven't they excluded Virginia?" asked Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. "Is it because the governor of Florida is a Republican and the Virginia governor is a Democrat?"

The complaints came as South Carolina's Republican governor said Wednesday he is seeking an exemption from the proposed drilling expansion, a move that will test the relationship between Trump and one of his earliest supporters.

Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters that risks associated with drilling pose a serious threat to South Carolina's lush coastline and $20 billion tourism industry.

"We cannot afford to take a chance with the beauty, the majesty and the economic value and vitality of our wonderful coastline in South Carolina," McMaster said.

Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington said there is nothing unique about Florida except "there's a Republican governor in trouble running for the Senate."

Conflict of interest?

Zinke said after a brief meeting with Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., at the Tallahassee airport Tuesday that drilling in Florida waters would be "off the table," despite a plan that proposed drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean off Florida.

The change of course — just five days after Zinke announced the offshore drilling plan — highlights the political importance of Florida, where Trump narrowly won the state's 29 electoral votes in the 2016 election and has encouraged Scott to run for Senate.

The state is also important economically, with a multibillion-dollar tourism business built on sunshine and miles of white sandy beaches.

And Florida is where Trump has a winter home in Palm Beach. Trump spent his Christmas and New Year's break at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Former White House ethics chief Walter Shaub said Zinke's decision to exempt Florida from the drilling plan appears to be a conflict of interest for Trump.

Five-year drilling plan

Zinke announced plans last week to greatly expand offshore oil drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic and Pacific oceans, including multiple areas where drilling is now blocked. The plan was immediately met with bipartisan opposition on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Democratic governors along both coasts unanimously oppose drilling, as do a number of Republican governors, including McMaster, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker.

The five-year plan announced by Zinke would open 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves to development by private companies.

Industry groups praised the announcement, while environmental groups denounced the plan, saying it would impose "severe and unacceptable harm" to America's oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.