Jan. 11 (UPI) — A Florida senator at the center of the debate over offshore drilling under the Trump administration said the Interior Department’s latest plans lack clarity.
“The public has a right to know exactly what Interior’s plan is and it is unreasonable to expect Floridians to provide input on a plan that may or may not be the plan that your agency is actually considering,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D. Fla., said in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Nelson’s letter followed the mid-week announcement from Zinke that Florida was removed from the plan from President Donald Trump to open nearly all of the U.S. territorial waters to drilling in a five-year plan set to begin in2019.
Zinke’s announcement, made after a meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a potential challenger to Nelson’s seat, was met with outrage by leaders from states not in the Trump column during the 2016 race.
In a posting on his Facebook page, Sen. Bob Mendez, D-N.J., said his state too wanted concessions from Zinke, saying New Jersey, like Florida, also relied heavily on coastal tourism and fishing for a source of revenue.
“How loud do we have to shout for you to hear us, too?” Menendez asked. “Will having three Trump golf courses help?”
With Florida going to Trump in the race, and with the governor’s senate ambitions, Nelson added that Zinke’s move smacked of political favor.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat in a state that went to Trump in the 2016 race, said he wanted to meet with the president himself to explain how offshore drilling would threaten the state economy.
“The Trump administration, through their decision on Florida, has admitted that offshore drilling is a threat to coastal economies and tourism,” Cooper said in a statement. “Offshore drilling holds the same risks for North Carolina as it does for Florida and North Carolina deserves the same exemption.”
Nelson said that, with the offshore draft lease plan up for public comment, but changing, it was unclear exactly what Zinke’s department intended to do offshore.
Jack Gerard, the head of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s main lobbying group, said Zinke’s decision to exempt Florida was premature.
“Securing reliable sources of energy helps fuel other industries like tourism, especially in states like Florida that relies on more than 200 million barrels of gasoline and diesel each year to fuel its economy.
Hurricane Harvey hit the southern coast of Texas in late August, knocking out much of the regional refineries. Irma’s landfall in Florida shortly afterward upended the national energy sector because the state has no refineries and other markets had to work overtime to make up the difference.
The draft drilling proposal was submitted last week. The agency must first take public comments on the proposal for 60 days, revise it, release the new proposal, and then finalize it. This process could take more than a year.