Florida politicians on Thursday pushed back on the Trump administration’s move to vastly expand offshore drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic oceans with a plan that would also open up federal waters off the California coast for the first time in more than three decades.
The new five-year drilling plan also could open new areas of oil and gas exploration in areas off the East Coast from Georgia to Maine, where drilling has been blocked for decades.
Former President Barack Obama blocked Atlantic and Pacific drilling under a five-year plan finalized in 2016.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced the new plan Thursday, saying that responsible development of offshore energy resources would boost jobs and economic security while providing billions of dollars to fund conservation along U.S. coastlines.
“This is a draft program,” Zinke said in a conference call with reporters. “Nothing is final yet, and our department is continuing to engage the American people to get to our final product.”
Florida politicians though have not been supportive of such a move and many sounded off Thursday, voicing their displeasure.
Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, joined three West Coast Democratic governors as well as the Democratic governors of North Carolina and Virginia saying he opposed offshore drilling near Florida.
Scott said in a statement he has asked for an immediate meeting with Zinke to discuss his concerns.
“My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected,” the statement said.
Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio both weighed in, as well.
Rubio said he has “long supported the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, which is not slated to expire until 2022, and introduced legislation to extend the moratorium until 2027.
“As the Department of Interior works to finalize their draft plan, I urge Secretary Zinke to recognize the Florida Congressional delegation’s bipartisan efforts to maintain and extend the moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, and remove this area for future planning purposes.”
Nelson, a Democrat, said the state cannot afford an incident like BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 workers and triggered the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history
“Every Floridian remembers what happened to us when the beaches of Pensacola Beach were blackened with tar and oil, and we lost a whole season of our guests, our tourists who come to this extraordinary state,” Nelson said, vowing to “do everything I can to defeat” President Donald Trump’s plan.
Representative John Rutherford, a Republican representing Florida’s 4th District, put out a statement saying he is “ very concerned” by the day’s announcement.
“Countless business owners and residents along the First Coast have shared with me their concerns about offshore drilling and exploration,” Rutherford said. “Seismic testing and drilling put our recovering fisheries, our coastal communities, and our tourism-based economy at undue risk at a time when booming oil and gas production is more than enough to meet our current energy needs. I will continue working with Governor Scott and my colleagues in the Florida delegation to urge the Trump Administration to abandon this plan.”
Rutherford’s office, in June, released a letter that collected more than a 100 signatures from members of Congress stating their opposition to coastal drilling and seismic airgun testing, a method used in oil exploration that experts say is harmful and disruptive to wildlife.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, who represents the southern part of St. Johns County in the 6th District, and recently collected an endorsement from Trump for his anticipated run for governor, signed Rutherford’s letter.
His office did not return a call for comment on Thursday.
Industry groups praised Thursday’s announcement, which would be the most expansive offshore drilling proposal in decades. The proposal follows Trump’s executive order in April encouraging more drilling rights in federal waters, part of the administration’s strategy to help the U.S. achieve “energy dominance” in the global market.
“To kick off a national discussion, you need a national plan — something that has been lacking the past several years,” said Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association.
The new five-year plan would open 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to development by private companies, Zinke said, with 47 leases proposed off the nation’s coastlines between 2019 and 2024. Nineteen sales would be off the coast of Alaska, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic and seven in the Pacific, including six off California’s coast.
The proposal comes less than a week after the Trump administration proposed to rewrite or kill rules on offshore oil and gas drilling imposed after the 2010 BP spill.
The Trump administration called the rules an unnecessary burden on industry and said rolling them back will encourage more energy production. Environmentalists said Trump was raising the risk of more deadly oil spills.
This story contains reporting from Matthew Daly of The Associated Press.