Posted: 3:06 pm Friday, January 19th, 2018
By Jamie Dupree
Ten days after Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke told the Governor of Florida that his state was “off the table” for new offshore oil and gas exploration, the official in charge of the review of offshore waters told Congress that no final decision has been made, no matter what was publicly declared by the Secretary.
“So, right now, Florida’s shores are still in jeopardy if or until an official decision is made, is that correct?” asked Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee.
“They’re still part of the analysis until the Secretary gives us an official decision,” said Walter Cruickshank, who is the acting chief of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
The comments drew scorn from other members of the Florida delegation, which has put up bipartisan opposition to the idea of new drilling.
“This confirms what we all suspected,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), “there is no deal to protect Florida from drilling.”
“What we saw last week was just political theater, and the people of Florida should be outraged,” Nelson added in a written statement.
Nelson’s strong line against drilling is nothing new, but his focus on this matter has another part to it – as Gov. Rick Scott has been mentioned repeatedly as someone who might challenge Nelson in 2018.
It was ten days ago that Interior Secretary Zinke flew to Tallahassee to meet with Scott, and declared that Florida would not see new offshore exploration.
Now, there seems to be some wiggle room.
BOEM Dir. Cruickshank said Florida is not off the table for offshore drilling activities, contradicting Interior Sec. Zinke. The only way to fully protect Florida’s economy & environment from oil drilling is to extend the moratorium permanently. https://t.co/yteM08FUK1
— US Rep Kathy Castor (@USRepKCastor) January 19, 2018
“So there has been no formal move to remove Florida from the offshore drilling plan,” Rep. Soto asked.
“It is not a formal action, no,” Cruickshank said of the Zinke pledge to Gov. Scott.
In Congress, there continues to be a push by some Florida lawmakers to get a full moratorium on new drilling put into law, in order to block oil and gas exploration – there already is one drilling ban in place in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico until 2022.
“Extending this moratorium will ensure that there is no question that Florida is off the table from drilling and not at the mercy of politicians like Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump who have flip flopped on the issue,” said Rep. Cathy Castor (D-FL).
In early January, the Interior Department released a sweeping plan to open virtually all waters to offshore exploration along the Pacific and Atlantic coastline.
The move set off alarm bells in the state’s Congressional delegation – in both parties – as members denounced the idea of drilling close to the coastline, or in the vicinity of the Keys, in the Florida Straits.
As for Gov. Scott, he told reporters in south Florida that he believed the state would still not be included in the final Trump Administration drilling plan.
“Secretary Zinke is a man of his word,” the Governor said. “He promised me that Florida would be off the table, and I believe that Florida is off the table.”
“I know Secretary Zinke has made a commitment, and he’ll live up to his commitment,” the Governor added.