Comments raise questions about Florida oil drilling exemption

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The waters around Florida may not be as safe from offshore drilling as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke led the world to believe earlier this month.


Walter Cruickshank, the Trump administration’s acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told a U.S. House committee Friday that a Jan. 9 tweet from Zinke announcing Florida would be exempt from consideration for offshore drilling “was not a formal action.

“There has been no formal decision yet on what’s in or out,” Cruickshank said.

Under questioning from two Democrats, Rep. Jared Huffman of California and Rep. Darren Soto of Florida, Cruickshank repeatedly said Zinke’s declaration that Florida was “off the table” for oil drilling did not qualify as an official statement.

“The secretary’s statement stands for itself,” Cruickshank said more than once, adding later that Florida is “still part of the analysis until the secretary gives us an official decision otherwise.”

A week after Zinke announced his agency’s plan to open 90 percent of the nation’s continental shelf area to exploration and drilling, he met with Gov. Rick Scott and controversially credited the governor — an ally of President Donald Trump — with convincing him that Florida waters should be declared off limits to oil and gas interests.

Coming when it did, Zinke’s announcement carried a sense of political gamesmanship, as Scott is poised to challenge incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson for his Senate seat.

In a statement issued Friday, Nelson claimed that Cruickshank’s comments had unearthed the truth of Zinke’s motives.

“This confirms what we all suspected: There is no deal to protect Florida from drilling,” Nelson said. “What we saw last week was just political theater, and the people of Florida should be outraged. Drilling off of Florida’s coast is a real threat to our state, and we should all be working together to protect our coasts — not playing politics with an issue that’s so important to our future.”

Scott was asked following an event in Miami on Friday to comment on Cruickshank’s responses to questions posed by members of the House Natural Resources Committee.

“Let me make sure that everybody understands that I’m going to continue to oppose drilling off the coast of Florida,” Scott said when asked about the differences between Zinke’s comments and Cruickshank’s testimony. “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.”

A second question sought the governor’s opinion on the accuracy of what Cruickshank had said.  

“I didn’t see what he said, but I know that Secretary Zinke has made a commitment, and he’ll live up to his commitments,” Scott said.

In closing, the governor appeared to reference both Nelson’s statement and the threat of a federal government shutdown.

“A lot of people want to talk about politics, what they ought to be doing is they ought to be making sure we keep government going. This shouldn’t be a day of politics, this should be a day we keep our government going,” Scott said. “By the way, with offshore drilling, I think the entire Florida delegation is against it. This shouldn’t be about politics; we should be happy with what Secretary Zinke did. We should be happy with the fact the he committed to take Florida off the table, and this shouldn’t be about politics.”



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