TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, widely expected to battle this year for Nelson's Senate seat, said Thursday they both intend to fight a Trump administration plan to open previously protected parts of the Atlantic Ocean and eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil and gas drilling.
Scott said he has requested a meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to discuss opposition to President Donald Trump's effort to expand domestic energy production.
“Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling --- which is something I oppose in Florida,” Scott said in a prepared statement shortly before Zinke unveiled the drilling proposal Thursday. “I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration.”
Scott was not the only Florida Republican criticizing the proposal.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican from Longboat Key, called the proposal “reckless, misguided and potentially catastrophic to Florida.”
“As the state with the longest coastlines in the continental United States, Florida is especially vulnerable to oil spills,” Buchanan said. “Have we forgotten so soon the devastating damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010?”
But the Florida Petroleum Council, an industry group, hailed the Trump administration move as a way to benefit Florida consumers by potentially creating jobs and additional government revenue while strengthening national security.
“Allowing us to explore our offshore energy will boost our state economy and spur investment --- all while safely coexisting with our agriculture, tourism and fishing industries as well as U.S. military operations,” council Executive Director David Mica said in a statement. “The administration has recognized that the ability to access our abundant offshore resources in a safe and environmentally responsible way will help our nation meet our energy needs well into the future.”
Mica said Florida relies on natural gas for nearly 70 percent of its electricity and that the industry is “constantly developing and improving safety standards, programs, new technologies, and best practices to protect our workers, the environment and marine life.”
Floridians will get a chance to comment on the proposal Feb. 8 at the Four Points by Sheraton in Tallahassee. The hearing is one of 23 that will be hosted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management across the nation between Jan. 16 and Feb. 28.
Aliki Moncrief, of the Florida Conservation Voters, described the proposal as “reckless” and added that “it's refreshing to see (Scott) catching up with what Sen. Nelson has been saying for years.”
The topic of oil drilling did not come up Sunday when Scott had lunch with Trump in Palm Beach County, Scott spokesman John Tupps said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday said the administration will continue to work with Scott.
“Our goal certainly isn't to cross Gov. Scott," she said during a daily press briefing. “Just because we may differ on issues from time to time doesn't mean that we can't have an incredibly strong and good relationship."
In the announcement Thursday, Zinke said nearly all of the nation's outer continental shelf --- a jurisdictional term describing submerged lands 10.36 statutory miles off Florida's west coast and 3 nautical miles off the east coast --- will be considered for drilling.
In 2017, Trump signed an executive order asking Zinke to consider opening the Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic to drilling.
Under Zinke's proposal, which must still go through a public comment period and potential revisions before being finalized, 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves would be open to leasing between 2019 and 2024. Money raised from the leases would go toward improving national parks.
Nelson, a Democrat, panned the plan as “an assault on Florida's economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment.”
“This proposal defies all common sense, and I will do everything I can to defeat it,” Nelson said in a statement.
In 2006, Nelson and then-U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., brokered a deal to ban drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast through 2022.
Nelson has long maintained that oil rigs being “too close” to Florida's shoreline could impact the state's tourism-driven economy and military training areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Environmental groups expressed a similar view Thursday.
“The plan proposes to expand offshore oil drilling everywhere, including in our most sensitive waters,” Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said in a statement. “It puts irreplaceable wildlife and coastal communities at risk for the sole benefit of big oil, and it takes us in exactly the wrong direction on the urgently needed transition to a clean energy future.”
Nelson's statement on Thursday came a day after he announced plans to invoke a procedural rule known as the Congressional Review Act to try to block efforts to roll back safety standards the Obama administration put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The issue of offshore drilling also could confront state lawmakers during the annual legislative session, which starts Tuesday.
Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, and Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, have proposed a resolution (SR 550 and HR 319) seeking to maintain a decades-long moratorium against oil drilling in an area of the eastern Gulf of Mexico used by the military for air and sea training.
The resolution, introduced last month, asks Congress to maintain the moratorium, which is in place from east of the Military Mission Line, which runs south of Hurlburt Field in Okaloosa County, to Key West. The moratorium is set to expire in 2022.
“The military missions require day and night access to the airspace, from the surface up to 60,000 feet, for high-speed flying and maneuvering, as well as day and night access to the seaspace, from the sea surface to the subsurface areas, for use by ships and submarines,” the resolution says.