Ryan Zinke's Decision To Appease GOP Governor On Offshore Drilling Leaves Coastal Democrats Fuming

The Interior secretary said "local voices matter." So far, he's ignored pleas from leaders in blue states.

WASHINGTON — Coastal Democrats from California to New York are blasting Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for what they view as a political and arbitrary decision to take Florida waters “off the table” for future offshore oil drilling

Some wonder if the sudden reversal was nothing more than a stunt to help get Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) elected to the Senate in 2018, while California’s top prosecutor pointed out that tourism and beauty are not unique to the Republican-led Sunshine State.

“California is also ‘unique’ & our ‘coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.’ Our ‘local and state voice’ is firmly opposed to any and all offshore drilling,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra tweeted, referencing Zinke’s own statement.

“If that’s your standard, we, too, should be removed from your list. Immediately,” he added.

The Trump administration released a sweeping new proposal last week to open nearly all U.S. waters, including huge swaths of the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, to oil exploration — a move that drew outrage from both Democrats and Republicans. 

Zinke flew to Tallahassee on Tuesday to meet in person with Scott — a staunch Trump ally who pushed back against the administration’s offshore proposal even before an official announcement. 

In one Twitter post, Zinke wrote that “local voices matter.” And in a statement announcing his decision for Florida’s coastal waters, Zinke said: “President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice. I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” 

The move left Democratic governors wondering how that logic would impact their states.

“New York doesn’t want drilling off our coast either,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) wrote. “Where do we sign up for a waiver [Secretary Zinke]?”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) also wondered if Zinke planned to listen to voices in her state. 

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) suggested if Trump’s beloved Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida ― sometimes dubbed the “Winter White House” ―  might have factored into Zinke’s decision.  

For now, Zinke appears to have tuned out pleas from leaders in blue states. But his handling of the situation has already become fuel for potential legal challenges. 

“Taking #Florida off the table for offshore drilling but not #California violates the legal standard of arbitrary and capricious agency action,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), an attorney, tweeted. “California and other coastal states also rely on our beautiful coasts for tourism and our economy. I believe courts will strike this down.”

Scott — who continues to deny the science behind climate change and has long supported drilling in and around Florida — is expected to make a run for Senate this year, challenging Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), a longtime opponent of offshore drilling.

Nelson dismissed Zinke’s decision Tuesday as a “political stunt.” 

“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts,” Nelson tweeted on Tuesday. “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 FL.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Virginia Gov.-elect Ralph Northam also protested the Trump administration’s exception for Florida but not other states. 

Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, did not mince words, accusing Zinke of making the United States a “banana republic.”