Interior Secretary Backs Down on Drilling Exploration off Florida Coast: ‘Taken Off the Table,’ Republican Governor Says

MEDITERRANEAN SEA, ISRAEL - FEBRUARY 2013: In this handout image provided by Albatross, The Tamar drilling natural gas production platform is seen some 25 kilometers West of the Ashkelon shore in February 2013 in Israel. (Photo Photo by Albatross via Getty Images)
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Just days after announcing the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf would be explored for areas suitable for oil and gas drilling, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke agreed on Tuesday to remove the Florida coastline from the five-year plan.

The reversal came after Zinke met with Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott at a Tallahassee airport and Scott told reporters after the meeting that drilling off the state’s coast was “taken off the table,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

The Times reported:

“As a result of our interest in making sure that there’s no drilling here, Florida will be taken off the table,” Scott said.

Zinke said the decision was a culmination of multiple meetings between Scott and Trump administration officials.

“Florida is obviously unique,” Zinke said. “For Floridians, we are not drilling off the coast of Florida, and clearly the governor has expressed that it’s important.”

The Times added that Zinke cited damage along the state’s coast from Hurricane Irma in September and the ongoing pollution problems around Lake Okeechobee as factors in the administration’s reversal.

But at least one long-time critic of offshore drilling in the state, Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson, called the move a “political stunt.”

“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts,” Nelson said in a statement reported by the Times. “But now, 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. “This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott, who has wanted to drill off Florida’s coast his entire career.”

“We shouldn’t be playing politics with the future of Florida,” Nelson said.

Until last week, 94 percent of the OCS off Alaska, California, the Gulf of Mexico and the East Coast of the United States have been off-limits for decades.

Last week’s announcement from Interior said:

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke today announced the next step for responsibly developing the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (National OCS Program) for 2019-2024, which proposes to make over 90 percent of the total OCS acreage and more than 98 percent of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to consider for future exploration and development.

“Responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf in a safe and well-regulated way is important to our economy and energy security, and it provides billions of dollars to fund the conservation of our coastlines, public lands, and parks,” Zinke said in the announcement.

“Today’s announcement lays out the options that are on the table and starts a lengthy and robust public comment period,” Zinke said. “Just like with mining, not all areas are appropriate for offshore drilling, and we will take that into consideration in the coming weeks.”

“The important thing is we strike the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American Energy Dominance,” Zinke said.

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