WASHINGTON ― Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke infuriated governors of coastal states in January when he unveiled sweeping plans to begin drilling for oil and gas off their shores.
But Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) says Zinke privately told her a couple of weeks ago that he knows drilling along the Pacific Northwest coastline is a bad investment.
“I did meet with him,” Brown told HuffPost in a Thursday sit-down. “He told me that the return on investment is not very lucrative for offshore drilling, off of Oregon and Washington coasts. The return on investment is not good. We know that.”
The governor said she told Zinke that drilling off Oregon’s coastline also isn’t worth the risk because it falls along the Cascadia subduction zone fault line, and that activity there could increase the risk of an earthquake.
“That’s what’s different about the western coast,” she said.
It’s a sign of hope for Oregon, which, like many other coastal states, desperately wants an exemption from the Trump administration’s drilling plans, which include opening up federal waters to drilling off of California for the first time in decades and expanding oil and gas exploration all along the East Coast.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has warned of the “unrecoverable damage” this could do to the state’s $3 billion beach tourism industry. California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has said the “reckless” proposal contradicts the state’s efforts to wean itself off fossil fuels. Republican Govs. Charlie Baker (Mass.), Chris Sununu (N.H.) and Larry Hogan (Md.) are also strongly opposed, and Hogan even directed his attorney general to look into every possible legal option to block the administration’s efforts.
Asked if Zinke is leaning toward an exemption for Oregon or Washington, Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift emailed HuffPost a detailed statement about the process for giving public comments on the proposed drilling plan.
“Creating a Five Year Program is a very open and public process, and Secretary Zinke looks forward to meeting with more Governors and other coastal representatives who want to discuss the draft program,” Swift said. “Aside from those important meetings, there is continued outreach by the Department. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has planned 23 public meetings, in our coastal states, to secure feedback directly from citizens, to ensure all viewpoints are taken into consideration as the Department moves forward. Those unable to attend the public meetings are invited to submit their comments to www.regulations.gov.”
Asked to clarify what that has to do with Oregon or Washington getting an exemption, Swift replied, “The statement sufficiently covers your request.”
It wouldn’t be unprecedented if Zinke did offer an exemption. A week after announcing the administration’s drilling plans, he arbitrarily exempted Florida. The move left other coastal governors even more outraged, particularly because it appeared to be entirely political: President Donald Trump wants Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to run for Senate against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. By exempting Florida from expanded drilling, which is very unpopular in the state and something that Scott opposes, Trump made his potential race a lot easier.
“So Florida gets the exemption because of, I don’t know what, political cronyism? Because they want to protect Mar-A-Lago? Are you kidding me?” Brown said. “That’s just not OK.”
Zinke has previously defended his decision to exempt Florida by saying its “coastal currents” are different from those in other states.
The Interior Department is currently holding hearings around the country to take public comments on its drilling plans. Brown said people in her state need to keep speaking out against expanded drilling because, despite Zinke’s comments to her being “a good sign,” nothing has changed from a policy standpoint.
“We still haven’t been exempted,” she said. “I’m not giving up until Oregon is off the hook. Our beaches are sacred.”