In Florida — as in many coastal states — opposition to offshore drilling is bipartisan. Former Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, was as outspoken as any Democrat when President Trump announced he would open nearly all U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas drilling. Scott’s opposition helped convince Trump to exclude Florida’s coasts.
Then it came out that a new five-year plan for federally owned waters might open portions of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic off Florida’s coasts to drilling after all. Current Gov. Ron DeSantis downplayed the potential, saying Trump understands Florida’s concerns.
“We’re just not a state for that,” DeSantis said after an appearance at the Tampa Bay Christian Academy. “I think for other states there may be a different calculation. But for us, you know our entire state is coastline. You have a mishap; it has a cascading effect. Whatever jobs would be created (by drilling) could be undercut by chilling tourism.”
DeSantis might want to rethink his confidence in the White House. The Trump administration is taking steps to weaken the ability of every coastal state to weigh in on federal decisions about offshore drilling.
The administration has proposed “streamlining” regulations under the Coastal Zone Management Act. The act now recognizes the legal right of coastal states to restrict activities along their coastlines. States can raise objections if federal offshore plans are inconsistent with their own coastal management plans. Under the changes, that ability would be curtailed.
Opponents of the change, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, warn the proposal could drastically reduce the amount of time states have to appeal, weakening state oversight of federal decisions that could put their coastlines at risk.
Floridians remember the devastating effects in the Gulf of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. That 2010 blowout and spill fouled beaches across the Gulf and continues to impact local fisheries. State voters last year even passed a constitutional amendment banning drilling in state waters by better than a 2-1 margin.
While Trump said he would exclude Florida from his plans to open coastal waters to oil and drilling, the administration’s hunger to expand offshore drilling cannot be denied — and should not be ignored. Indeed, permits to hunt for oil and gas in the Atlantic are still in the works despite legal setbacks.
We hope that DeSantis and other Florida Republicans will use their influence with the administration to discourage changes to Coastal Zone Management Act regulations. There is no evidence that states have abused their power to review offshore plans or that the reviews have unduly delayed acceptable projects.
Floridians, especially after experiencing the past year’s red-tide disaster, understand the value of clean, environmentally sound beaches. We and other coastal states have much to protect. According to Oceana — a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting and restoring oceans — tourism, recreation, fishing and other activity that depend on healthy coastlines support more than 2.6 million jobs and add $180 billion to the U.S. GDP.
The Coastal Management Zone rules give the public an important opportunity to weigh in on federal projects that could put local coastlines at risk.
Florida’s senators, its governor and other officials should defend our shores from dangerous drilling.