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Florida's Exemption From Offshore Drilling Plan Called 'Political Stunt'
“I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke said Tuesday. “As a result of discussion with Governor Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms."
President Trump's proposal to massively expand offshore oil and natural gas drilling off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts drew criticism from liberals and conservatives alike, who warn that such operations at sea could expose coastal areas to the risks of blowouts, explosions, catastrophic spills and seismic blasting.
"My top priority is to ensure that Florida's natural resources are protected," he said after the Trump administration's announcement last week.
Some have questioned whether exempting Florida was a " political ploy" to aid Scott, who is reportedly planning to run for U.S. Senate. Florida is also a crucial swing state and home to President Trump's Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago.
"I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. 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," Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson said in a statement. "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."
Environmental groups casted similar doubts.
"It's blatantly obvious that Governor Rick Scott and the Trump administration are colluding to earn political points in an election year," said Jorge Aguilar, southern region director of Food & Water Watch. "While the decision to remove Florida from offshore drilling is a good one, the Trump administration should drop its dangerous and foolhardy plan to drill around the U.S."
Sierra Club Florida Director Frank Jackalone said the decision was "a purely political move to aid the ambitions of Rick Scott."
"Had Zinke cared about the wishes of coastal communities or how drilling off their coasts will affect them," Jackalone added, "he would have proposed a plan that shrinks drilling even further, not proposed expanding operations to nearly every corner of our waters."
The plan to exempt Florida from offshore drilling also sparked outcry from other state lawmakers opposed to offshore drilling.
“Virginia's governor (and governor-elect) have made this same request, but we have not received the same commitment. Wonder why ..." ￼Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tweeted Tuesday.
"New York doesn't want drilling off our coast either," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted. “Where do we sign up for a waiver @SecretaryZinke?"
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra demanded Zinke to "immediately" remove California from the policy.
Filmmaker and outspoken Trump critic Michael Moore—who threatened to frack off the coast of the president's Florida vacation home after offshore drilling expansion was announced—also responded to the state's removal from the proposal.
"WAIT! WHAT? Trump's removing Florida from the list of states to do offshore drilling after I've already rented my fracking equipment to drill off Mar-a-Lago? Three days after I announce, he does this? Bastard!"
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jared Kaufman
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mevans / E+ / Getty Images
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