Both of Florida’s U.S. senators and 22 of its House members are in a dither over mixed signals on offshore oil drilling from Washington.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke assured Gov. Rick Scott that Florida was “off the table” earlier this month.
Soon, Zinke’s position was undercut by Ocean Energy Management Acting Director Walter Cruickshank’s telling the House Natural Resources Committee that areas off Florida’s coast are still under consideration.
With inchoate policy guidance from the Executive Branch, Florida legislators demanded answers Wednesday from the Donald Trump administration in a letter.
“In light of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Acting Director Walter Cruickshank’s recent statement before the House Natural Resources Committee that the Planning Areas off Florida’s coasts are still under consideration for offshore drilling, we write to reiterate our strong opposition to any attempt to open up the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling,” the lawmakers wrote. “We object to any efforts to open the eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling, and we urge you to remove this area from the five-year plan immediately.”
The letter notes that these areas have been off limits since 2006, and that since the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010, local and regional stakeholders and leaders have been adamant in opposition.
The letter also cites the “critical” nature of the Eastern Gulf Test and Training range for training missions for F-22 and F-35 pilots. And on the eastern side, facilities like Patrick Air Force Base, Kennedy Space Center, and the Jacksonville Naval Air Station would be impacted.
Some Florida politicians — notably, Scott — took Zinke at his word, even after the Cruickshank remarks became news.
“Secretary Zinke is a man of his word. He’s a Navy Seal. He promised me that Florida would be off the table, and I believe Florida is off the table,” Scott said.
“Secretary Zinke has made a commitment,” Scott added, “and he’ll live up to his commitments.”
However, Sen. Bill Nelson, who will likely face Scott in his re-election contest this year, called Zinke’s declaration and Scott’s trumpeting thereof a “political stunt.”
Joining Sens. Nelson and Marco Rubio signing the letter: Reps. Stephanie Murphy, Ted Deutch, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Kathy Castor, Alcee Hastings, Vern Buchanan, Val Demings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Frederica Wilson, Darren Soto, Bill Posey, Al Lawson, Gus Bilirakis, Lois Frankel, Brian Mast, Charlie Crist, John Rutherford, Ron DeSantis, Dennis Ross, Francis Rooney, Neal Dunn, and Matt Gaetz.