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Did Ryan Zinke Give Florida an Offshore Drilling Exemption Because of Mar-a-Lago?

Everything Zinke says to justify Florida’s exemption applies to every other coastal state. Except one thing.

The Trump administration announced plans last week to lift Obama-era prohibitions on offshore drilling, potentially opening up thousands of miles of coastline to companies interested in extracting oil and natural gas from the ocean floor. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, whose department oversees and regulates coastline leasing, called the five-year plan “a new path for energy dominance in America,” which is a strange way to refer to an investment in nonrenewable resources with a finite future.

Environmental groups, Democrats, and even some Republicans swiftly decried the move for its potential to devastate marine ecosystems and the health and safety of coastal communities. Governors from New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon, and Washington all oppose offshore drilling, and all requested exclusion from the plan last year.

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Interestingly, Zinke decided to remove one state from the new standard—one that didn’t even originally ask for an exemption. But after the announcement, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, an ally of the Trump administration’s, released a statement saying, “I have 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. My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.”

On Tuesday, Zinke granted him his wish, exempting Florida’s coastlines from offshore drilling. Zinke released a statement that called Scott “a straightforward leader that can be trusted,” and declared support for “the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

The problem with this explanation, though, is that everything he says to justify Florida’s exemption applies to every other coastal state. Florida is certainly special in uniquely Floridian ways, but warm beaches that attract tourists and generate in-state revenue are everywhere. There’s the Jersey Shore; Rehoboth Beach in Delaware; Charleston, South Carolina; the Outer Banks in North Carolina; Virginia Beach; Los Angeles and San Diego, and on and on and on.

Now, state leaders are forcing Zinke into a corner with his own words.

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Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another Trump ally, made it clear he wanted an exemption for his state as well.

What could be going on here? Perhaps this is a case of not-in-my-backyard exceptionalism. After all, Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he’s absconded to 10 times since inauguration, sits on the beach in Palm Beach, Florida. Would he want to deal with an unsightly view and accompanying cacophony of an offshore drill platform? Probably not! Not to mention the fact that offshore drilling produces a pretty disgusting slew of pollutants, including muds, brine wastes, and runoff water that threaten to decimate the pristine beauty you’d expect at a beachside home.

If Zinke can’t find a real reason Florida should be exempt and other states should not, the entire plan might be dead in the water anyway. Good riddance.

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