Goodman: Oil-drilling ban decision for Florida lathered in politics

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke with Gov. Rick Scott at Tallahassee’s airport yesterday.

About the only thing oilier than rigs off the coast is the way the Trump administration withdrew its plans for offshore drilling along Florida’s shores.

In a move that smacks of greasing the future political prospects of Gov. Rick Scott, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew to Tallahassee yesterday to make a surprise announcement: That threat to allow offshore drilling we made last week? Never mind.

What prompted the reversal, a reporter asked? “The governor,” Zinke said.

“You have a tremendous governor that is straightforward, easy to work for, says exactly what he means. And I can tell you Florida is well-served,” Zinke said.

Eat your heart out, Gov. Jerry Brown in California. It now appears that the White House’s environmental decisions are unlawfully based on whether your state voted for President Donald Trump or is a swing state that might elect a Republican senator in 2018.

Trump has been wooing Scott for more than a year to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson, according to Politico, and Scott is widely expected to oppose the Democrat who has held the seat since 2000.

Let’s be clear. It’s terrific that the White House is discarding its cockamamie plans, announced last week, to extend offshore drilling for oil and gas to Florida’s coast. In fact, we denounced the administration’s designs in an editorial published this morning:

“No, no, a thousand times no.

“In no way should offshore oil and gas drilling be allowed off the coast of Florida.

“Or off the coast of the Carolinas, California, New Jersey — or any other coastal state, for that matter.”

No sooner had the editorial gone to press, however, than, in a surprise, Zinke swooped into Tallahassee to stand beside Scott and announce that Florida was being spared from the administration plans to expand offshore drilling nationwide.

Now, instead of a policy that’s bad for the whole nation, we have a policy that’s bad for the whole nation except, it appears, states dear to Trump. Already, three other states with Republican governors have asked for similar exemptions — Maryland, Massachusetts and South Carolina.

Democratic-led states, furious, are noting that this exemption thing is illegal. Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat and attorney, told Politico:

“Under the Administrative Procedure Act, an agency can’t act in an arbitrary and capricious manner. In this case, exempting Florida but not California (which has an even larger coastal economy) is arbitrary and capricious.

“So the agency would either have to not exempt Florida, or in the alternative, exempt Florida, California and any other state that can show the coasts are important to the state’s tourism and economy.”

In this nationwide drama of oil drilling, there may not be gushers. But there will be certainly be lawsuits.

Maybe the most furious man in Florida this morning is Nelson, who smelled a rat at once. Last night he tweeted:

Opposing drilling off Florida’s 1,300 miles of coastline has been the bipartisan position of Florida politicians, and a popular stance with the state’s voters, for years. But Scott used to waffle on the issue.

When running for governor for the first time, in 2010 — not long after the disastrous Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill — the millionaire business-turned-politician said he supported offshore oil drilling “with the right precautions,” a meaningless caveat, because what politician would ever want unsafe drilling?

But lately, the governor famous for allegedly scrubbing the words “climate change” from official communications, has positioned himself as a nature-lover.  Scott has urged lawmakers to spend more on the environment in 2018. And when the Interior Department announced its proposal to vastly expand offshore drilling, he quickly criticized it and said he would talk to Zinke personally to try to straighten things out.

Scott’s spokesman, Jonathan Tupps, expressed wonderment that oil-drilling opponents wouldn’t be thrilled to see the oil-drilling plans scuttled. As Politico reported:

“Senator Nelson and anyone else who opposes oil drilling off of Florida’s coast should be happy that the governor was able to secure this commitment,” he said. “This isn’t about politics. This is good policy for Florida.”

And yet the Sierra Club of Florida said the decision was “a purely political move to aid the ambitions of Rick Scott.” The League of Conservation Voters called it a “publicity stunt.”

Perhaps they suspect, as I do, that the Trump administration wasn’t very serious about drilling off Florida’s coast in the first place. They announce a policy one week — and rescind it four days later? How committed to this policy could they have been?

But they sure gave our governor the chance to play the hero.

Seems here they’re trying to play us all for suckers.