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Trump administration backs off Florida drilling proposal after pressure from governor

Then-Gov. Rick Scott (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

In the face of vocal bipartisan opposition, the Trump administration said Tuesday it would not allow offshore oil and gas drilling in Florida waters, partially rolling back a proposal it unveiled last week.

“We are not drilling off the coast of Florida,” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at a hastily called news conference in the Tallahassee airport after meeting with Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott added, “I’m appreciative that the secretary came to Tallahassee to sit down and talk about it and has committed that as a result of our interest in making sure there’s no drilling here that Florida will be taken off the table.”

Florida elected officials across the political spectrum, including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, whom Scott is expected to run against this year, and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, expressed opposition to the oil drilling plans.

Late Tuesday, Nelson blasted the announcement as a “political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott.”

“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 it,” Nelson said in a released statement.

But Zinke said it was Scott’s concerns about oil spills damaging Florida’s beaches and tourism industry that led to the reversal.

The rollback, though, only applies to Florida. Zinke said other coastal states, like Louisiana, are “working coasts” that are “very much different than a recreation-centric coast that’s in Florida.”

In the announcement last Thursday, he said nearly all of the nation’s outer continental shelf — a jurisdictional term describing submerged lands 10.36 statutory miles off Florida’s west coast and 3 nautical miles off the east coast — will be considered for drilling. Oil drilling has been a sensitive issue in Florida, with its miles of coastline, especially following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that ravaged Louisiana’s coast and left gooey tarballs on Florida Panhandle beaches.

Then-Gov. Charlie Crist called a special session to ban oil drilling but Florida lawmakers balked at the proposal.

As a candidate in 2010, Scott supported oil and gas drilling off Florida’s shores as a way to reduce oil dependency and expensive gas prices.

Despite the partial rollback of the plan, Zinke said the Trump administration was still dedicated to aggressively seeking energy resources throughout the country.

“I don’t want your kids ever to fight on foreign shores for a resource we have here,” he said. “But there’s places where resources are sensitive, and there’s places where we’re not going to go forward with [drilling for oil] and one of them is off the coast of Florida.”

Scott was not the only Florida Republican criticizing the proposal last week, with U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, of Longboat Key, calling it “reckless, misguided and potentially catastrophic to Florida.”

But the Florida Petroleum Council hailed the Trump administration move as a way to benefit state consumers by potentially creating jobs and additional government revenue while strengthening national security.

“Allowing us to explore our offshore energy will boost our state economy and spur investment — all while safely coexisting with our agriculture, tourism and fishing industries as well as U.S. military operations,” council Executive Director David Mica said in a statement.

News Service of Florida contributed to this report.


© 2018 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.