Posted: 7:56 am Wednesday, January 10th, 2018
By Jamie Dupree
The surprise move by the Trump Administration on Tuesday to reverse plans for new offshore oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida quickly spurred multiple calls by officials in other states for the same exemption, as Democrats said the move reeked of a political favor for Republican Governor Rick Scott in the Sunshine State.
“Florida should not be given special status because the President is friends with Governor Scott,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), as coastal state lawmakers of both parties from the East Coast turned up the volume on their opposition the new plan to open up oil and gas exploration off their coastlines.
“Rhode Island’s coastline is an economic driver that supports good-paying jobs,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). “And my constituents don’t want offshore drilling.”
“Today’s news reaffirms that nothing is set in stone yet on issue of drilling off New Jersey coast,” said Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ).
Taking #Florida off the table for offshore drilling but not #California violates the legal standard of arbitrary and capricious agency action. California and other coastal states also rely on our beautiful coasts for tourism and our economy. I believe courts will strike this down https://t.co/xWyB69F7Gg
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 10, 2018
Local voices in Virginia have also spoken up. This would hurt our coastal economies and threaten our naval operations in Norfolk. If it’s truly about “local voice”—not just protecting President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago—then make this same commitment for Virginia. https://t.co/7n8ZyNDy0D
— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) January 10, 2018
Inbox: "Chris Christie's office issued a statement today reaffirming his opposition to gas and oil drilling off the New Jersey coast, and he urged the Department of Interior to provide New Jersey with the same exemption granted to Florida."
— James Hohmann (@jameshohmann) January 10, 2018
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) demanded more information from the Trump Administration on the move, denouncing the surprise announcement as a “political stunt.”
“What exactly does ‘off the table’ mean,” said Nelson, quoting the announcement by Interior Secretary Zinke, after he met with Florida’s Governor on Tuesday at the airport in Tallahassee.
“Does it mean both coasts of Florida? Does it mean just one? What about the Straits of Florida,” Nelson added.
It was just six days ago that the Trump Administration rolled out a sweeping plan to open almost all coastal waters in the United States to new oil and gas exploration – triggering a flood of bipartisan criticism.
Support for the new drilling plan was mainly limited to areas which have historically supported offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico – Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi – while elected officials in states from Florida to Maine, and up and down the West Coast, argued against the idea, worried about the possibility of an oil spill that could foul their coastlines.
“I think it speaks very loudly that every single coastal municipality in South Carolina – and over 140 municipalities along the East Coast – have formally opposed oil and gas development off the Atlantic coast,” said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who opposes the offshore drilling plan.
The exemption for Florida quickly became a political football that was being wielded against the GOP, as Democrats – like a candidate trying to take Sanford’s job in Congress – quickly demanded that the Trump Administration give the same treatment for their states.
I’m calling on Governor @henrymcmaster to demand President Trump remove South Carolina from the offshore drilling plan. If he truly opposes drilling off our coast, he will use his relationship with the President to protect the economic engine of SC. #NoDrilling https://t.co/hJ1S6sNNba
— Joe Cunningham (@JoeCunninghamSC) January 10, 2018
There were also rumbilngs in the halls of Congress that lawmakers could use an old tool to block the new Trump drilling proposal, by approving a yearly ban on offshore oil and gas exploration in certain areas.
Such a budgetary move – where “None of the funds” being spent by the feds would be allowed to proceed with the Trump drilling plan – has routinely been used by the Congress since the 1980’s to block the leasing of federal offshore lands for new oil and gas exploration.
Or, the Congress could approve a broader plan to block drilling, such as an area of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico off of Florida – that ban on new exploration was approved by Congress as part of a 2006 energy bill. The ban on drilling in that area expires in 2022.