When it comes to the threat of oil drilling off Florida’s coasts, the majority of the state’s Congressional delegation has our back. As for Gov. Rick Scott, he just might stab us in it.
Last month, 24 of Florida’s 27 lawmakers demanded in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that he come down firmly against oil and gas drilling off the state’s coasts. “It is critical to our national security interests as well as the tourism-driven economy of Florida,” read the letter signed by Rep. Vern Buchanan, Sens. Bill Nelson, Marco Rubio and others. A definitive answer has been elusive, and the Trump administration as slippery as an oil slick. Speaking of which …
Through executive order, the administration intends to open up new swaths of federal waters to oil and gas drilling, including areas that have been safely off-limits for years.
The Interior Department proposes to put up for auction leases to allow drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic. And, in a bone-headed display of regression, it would back off of safety regulations installed after the BP oil spill in 2010.
Coastal state governors, in a bipartisan howl, made their opposition clear. Florida’s Gov. Scott — a newly minted but, perhaps, temporary environmentalist — had for months been mum about the possibility of drilling, then sprang into action. After a meeting with Zinke, Scott had an announcement of his own: There would be no new drilling off Florida’s coasts.
“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver (so) I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms,” Zinke said in a statement.
While Floridians breathed a sigh of relief, those in other states rightly asked: What about us? After all, it’s not as if the beaches of California, or Virginia, or Georgia, or North Carolina are any less valuable assets to those states. But neither consistency nor well-thought-out policy have been this administration’s strong suits.
And those states don’t have the president’s Mar-a-Lago mansion or a Republican governor who needs to score political points if he seeks election to the U.S. Senate. But, should Scott win that seat, will he remain staunchly anti-drilling or ease off his opposition?
Then, Florida’s good no-drilling news turned sour when Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, in a statement before the House Natural Resources Committee said that drilling areas off Florida still were under consideration.
Which is it, then?
Florida lawmakers’ letter to Zinke makes a strong case in opposition, citing national security, the presence of military pilot training and rocket-testing sites and the potential — already seen in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill — for “devastating losses in the tourism revenues upon which the entire state relies.”
“Florida’s beaches are vital to our economy and way of life,” said Buchanan, co-chair of the Florida congressional delegation. “Our coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean and we cannot risk another catastrophic event like Deepwater Horizon.”
Nelson called Scott’s move a political stunt, adding, “For 7 1/2 years, he’s wanted to drill, and all of a sudden, he changes his position? Of course it’s all politics.”
Gov. Scott’s office responded to Nelson's remarks: “Senator Nelson and anyone else who opposes oil drilling off of Florida’s coast should be happy that the governor was able to secure this commitment. This isn’t about politics. This is good policy for Florida,” communications director John Tupps said.
In an email to the Herald Editorial Board, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who also signed the letter, said: “I sincerely hope that Gov. Scott’s opposition is genuine and not an act of subterfuge to trick Floridians into believing that he is an environmentalist in an election year. To convince skeptics he will need to make a similarly convincing argument to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and join the Florida congressional delegation in our vocal opposition to offshore drilling. This is a battle that is going to require force from all fronts.”
She’s right. The governor will continue to be a steward of this state should he ascend to the Senate. He needs to be unwaveringly vigilant on Florida’s behalf. He needs to have our back.
A version of this editorial first appeared in the Miami Herald.