AP Photo/Susan Walsh
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats from coastal states accused the Trump administration of punishing states with Democratic leaders after the administration said it would block oil drilling off Florida’s coast following objections from that state’s Republican governor.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California said on Twitter that his state, “like Florida, has hundreds of miles of beautiful coastline and a governor who wants to keep it that way. Or is that not enough for blue states?”
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was being hypocritical in claiming that “local voices matter” in his decision late Tuesday to block offshore drilling in Florida but not Virginia.
“If local voices matter why haven’t they excluded Virginia?” Kaine asked at a news conference Wednesday. “Is it because the governor of Florida is a Republican and the Virginia governor is a Democrat?”
Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said on Twitter that “the only science @SecretaryZinke follows is political science. He’ll reverse course to protect fellow Republicans in Florida, but not to protect coastlines and jobs across the rest of the country? Totally unacceptable.”
Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke, accused Kaine and other Democrats of taking cheap shots at her boss.
“The secretary has said since day one that he is interested in the local voice. If those governors would like to request meetings with the secretary, they are absolutely welcome to do so,” she said. “Their criticism is empty pandering.”
As of Wednesday morning, only the Democratic governor of North Carolina and the Republican governor of South Carolina had requested a meeting with Zinke on offshore drilling, Swift said.
In Oregon, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown took to Twitter to ask Zinke for relief. Linking to Zinke tweet about Florida, Brown wrote: “Hey @secretaryzinke, how about doing the same for #Oregon?”
Zinke said after a brief meeting with Scott at the Tallahassee airport Tuesday that drilling in Florida waters would be “off the table,” despite a plan that proposed drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean off Florida.
The change of course – just five days after Zinke announced the offshore drilling plan – highlights the political importance of Florida, where President Donald Trump narrowly won the state’s 29 electoral votes in the 2016 election and has encouraged Scott to run for Senate.
The state is also important economically, with a multibillion-dollar tourism business built on sunshine and miles and miles of white sandy beaches.
And Florida is where Trump has a winter home in Palm Beach. Trump spent his Christmas and New Year’s break at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Former White House ethics chief Walter Shaub said Zinke’s decision to exempt Florida from the drilling plan appears to be a conflict of interest for Trump.
Trump is “exempting the state that is home to the festering cankerous conflict of interest that the administration likes to call the ‘Winter White House’ and none of the other affected states,” Shaub tweeted.
Zinke said Tuesday that “Florida is obviously unique” and that the decision to remove the state came after meetings and discussion with Scott, a Trump ally and a likely candidate for the Senate seat now held by Democrat Bill Nelson.
Nelson called Scott’s meeting with Zinke “a political stunt” and said Scott has long wanted to drill off Florida’s coast, despite his recent opposition.
Zinke announced plans last week to greatly expand offshore oil drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic and Pacific oceans, including multiple areas where drilling is now blocked. The plan was immediately met with bipartisan opposition on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Democratic governors along both coasts unanimously oppose drilling, as do a number of Republican governors, including Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker.
The five-year plan announced by Zinke would open 90 percent of the nation’s offshore reserves to development by private companies.
Industry groups praised the announcement, while environmental groups denounced the plan, saying it would impose “severe and unacceptable harm” to America’s oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.