One week after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s pledge to remove Florida from a plan to expand oil and gas drilling off the U.S coast, another Trump administration official says that decision has yet to be made.
Walter Cruickshank, the Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told the House Natural Resources Committee Friday morning that Florida is not off the table” for drilling, sparking an exchange with Congressman Jared Huffman, (D-CA).
HUFFMAN: “I want to know every reason why Florida is so unique, that it got that spot exemption from the Secretary; the difference between Florida and these other coastal states that would justify this carve-out.”
CRUICKSHANK: “Again, the Secretary’s statement stands for itself, and we have no formal decision yet on what’s in or out of the five-year program.”
Earlier this month, Zinke met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott at the Tallahassee Airport; afterward, he announced Florida’s exemption.
“There’s [sic] places where resources are sensitive; and there’s places where we’re not going to go forward with resources. And one of them is off the coast of Florida.”
Cruickshank also was questioned by Florida Rep. Darren Soto, (D-Orlando).
SOTO: “Is Sec. Zinke’s tweet getting ahead of the game, but the process hasn’t happened yet?
CRUICKSHANK: “The Secretary’s statement stands on its own.”
SOTO: “By stand on its own, it just stands on its own but it’s not an official action; is that what you mean?”
CRUICKSHANK: “It is not a formal action, no.”
The admission appears to confirm what many Florida lawmakers -- including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson -- had suspected all along – that Zinke’s announcement was nothing more than a “political stunt” and not an announcement of official policy.
Nelson also had some thoughts about the semantics.
“Mr. Secretary, you said – quote – you were removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms,” said Nelson. “Well, all of us know that ‘platforms’ are different from ‘wellheads.’”
Nelson has written to Zinke, requesting specific details on any changes made to the agency’s five-year drilling plan. Zinke has yet to respond. Nelson has also introduced legislation to ban permanently any drilling off Florida’s 1,350 miles of coastline – the most of any state in the continental U.S.
“Right now, [Zinke’s] promise is just empty words,” Nelson said. “Because the only real thing out there – that is existing – is the law that prevents drilling off of the Gulf [of Mexico} for the next five years.”
Under Zinke’s original plan, drilling would be conducted off Florida’s east coast in 2019, and off the Gulf Coast beginning in 2023 – one year after the end of the current moratorium.
Nelson’s also concerned that the rush to get the drilling plan in place could discourage Floridians from being heard.
“Floridians should be aware, and should make their objections known,” said Nelson. “Because if we don’t, then the administration will try to say that they never heard of objections from Floridians.”
Nelson announced Wednesday that he has placed a “hold” on three Dept. of the Interior nominees slated to work under Zinke, and will keep that hold in place until the Secretary rescinds the current draft five-year drilling plan, and replaces it with a new draft that fully protects Florida’s coasts.