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.

Goodman: Gov. Rick Scott, friend of the environment, LOL.

Gov. Rick Scott applauds with guests after announcing funding for freshwater springs and Everglades restoration as a part of his 2015 state budget, during a visit to the Florida Audubon Birds of Prey Center, in Maitland, Fla. (AP Photo/Orlando Sentinel, Joe Burbank)

Rick Scott as defender of Florida’s lands, air and waters? Seriously?

The Florida governor whose mantra is jobs, jobs, jobs?  Who rode to office on a wave of tea party support and has pushed for limiting government and gutting regulations, including those that protect the environment, in the name of giving business a freer rein?

Yet here he was this week, proposing to boost spending on Florida’s natural resources and environmental programs by $220 million.

The $1.7 billion environmental package for lawmakers to consider in 2018 includes funding for the state’s springs, beaches and parks, along with $355 million for Everglades restoration, $50 million to help the federal government speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and $50 million for Florida Forever, the state’s most prominent land-preservation fund. (News Service of Florida)

And on Thursday, he touted news that his good friend President Donald Trump has ordered expedited federal spending on the Herbert Hoover Dike. Although, this might not fall under the category of “environment” so much as “disaster avoidance,” given the life-threatening dangers of a shaky levee in a major hurricane; we’re only a few weeks removed from when it looked like Irma was going to rake the center of the state and roar over Lake Okeechobee.

 

It’s almost enough to make you forget that Scott launched a thousand late-night TV jokes when his administration scrubbed the words “climate change” and “global warning” from official communications, according to the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

Because, you know, Florida doesn’t have much coastline to worry about.

It’s an easy guess why the governor is now making sure that we all know that he cares a great, great deal about our natural resources. The 2018 race for U.S. Senate is warming up. And Scott, his second term coming to an end, is expected to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who has won the statewide office three times already. Current polling shows they’re virtually tied.

Florida voters are as divided as the rest of the country on most issues, but we’re in general accord when it comes to protecting the environment. Just look at 2014’s Amendment 1, which established a huge fund for land and water conservation by setting aside a portion of an existing real-estate tax. It passed with 75 percent of the vote.

In Scott’s two victorious races for governor, by contrast, he couldn’t win 49 percent of the vote.

So painting yourself as an environmentalist is good politics in this state. The trouble is, Scott has a record that looks like this:

  • With the Legislature’s help, he ordered water management districts to slash their property tax collections soon after taking office. The South Florida Water Management District, which oversees Everglades restoration, had its budget cut by almost half. It operates with less money today than it did in 2008. Experienced scientists and engineers who did solid work for the water district are gone.
  • In 2011, Scott abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which oversaw development and tried to promote rational growth. To Scott, the department created too much red tape for developers.
  • Under Scott, Florida has eased up on enforcing rules against polluters. The Department of Environmental Protection has opened 81 percent fewer pollution-regulation cases since 2010, the year before Scott took office, according to Florida Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
  • That $50 million request he’s now making for Florida Forever land conservation purchases? Big deal. Until the Great Recession, the program got $300 million a year. Since Scott’s reelection in 2014, his requests for the program peaked at $25.1 million. Even after  voters passed Amendment 1 in that 2014 landslide, budget allocations haven’t surpassed $15.2 million, and this year Florida Forever was zeroed out. All of these sums look pretty paltry when you consider how much money Amendment 1 generates from the documentary-stamp tax. For next fiscal year, it’s an estimated $862.2 million.

There was another time when Scott talked a lot about the environment. That was 2014, when he was running for re-election.

He campaigned “on a $1 billion, 10-year environmental blueprint that in many aspects mirrored the environmental spending amendment that was also before voters at the time. The platform item included plans to request $150 million a year for Florida Forever.” (News Service of Florida)

Once Scott was returned to office, that $150 million a year never materialized.

There’s a reason that Democratic foes are calling Scott an “election year environmentalist.”

Florida needs leaders who are every-year environmentalists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Opinion: To fight Zika threat, ‘show me the money, Congress!’

Alex Palacios tests his mosquito spraying truck outside the Village of Wellington Public Works Department on August 10, 2016. The Village is spraying seven days a week. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Alex Palacios tests his mosquito spraying truck outside the Village of Wellington Public Works Department on August 10, 2016. The Village is spraying seven days a week. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

How about now?

Is the spread of the Zika virus enough of a public health threat yet for Congress to get the $1.9 billion the Obama administration first asked them for months ago?

Although, I’m sure by now the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials — like those in say… Florida! — would take even the $1.1 billion in funding that the Senate just couldn’t bring itself to authorize before it left for a seven-week hiatus.

Heck, let’s even drop it down to the $622 million the U.S. House wanted to give before being strong-armed by the Senate.

But it’s time to do something, right?

We’ve got well over 2,000 cases of travel-related Zika infections in the U.S. and territories. In the continental U.S., the vast majority of those are in, you guessed it, the Sunshine State.

More concerning: we’re now up to 21 cases of NON-travel-related Zika infections in South Florida — at least one of those in Palm Beach County.

That means that the virus, which can cause debilitating birth defects like microcephaly, has been transmitted via mosquito. This is the potential nightmare scenario that scientists and public health officials have been warning about for months.

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, was in Palm Beach County Tuesday meeting with Scripps Research Florida scientists about their work developing a vaccine to fight Zika. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon, File)
U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, was in Palm Beach County Tuesday meeting with Scripps Research Florida scientists about their work developing a vaccine to fight Zika. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon, File)

Yet, our federal lawmakers were too busy using the issue as a political football to get anything passed so that counties like ours can do proper mosquito control and scientists like those at Scripps Research Florida can work toward developing a vaccine.

We’re fortunate that Florida lawmakers like U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson are all over this. The two have been leaders in the Florida delegation at pushing for more federal funds.

They were both in Palm Beach County Wednesday meeting with local officials and Scripps honchos, and renewing a push for more funds.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott talks to reporters during a news conference at the Wynwood Community Service Center in Miami last Thursday. The CDC has warned expectant mothers to steer clear of the city's Wynwood neighborhood, where at least 15 people are believed to have been infected with the Zika virus through mosquito bites in the first such cases on record in the mainland U.S. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott talks to reporters during a news conference at the Wynwood Community Service Center in Miami last Thursday. The CDC has warned expectant mothers to steer clear of the city’s Wynwood neighborhood, where at least 15 people are believed to have been infected with the Zika virus through mosquito bites in the first such cases on record in the mainland U.S. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

Even Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been blowing a little smoke with all his administration’s efforts to combat the spread of Zika. Turns out the governor cut funds to counties for mosquito control in his first term, questioning its value; and so far has distributed only about $1.2 million of the $26.1 million he promised to help fight Zika months ago.

While public health officials still say that it is not yet time for a full-fledged freakout, that doesn’t mean we should wait for an outbreak before doing what’s necessary.

I mean, school is about to start in Palm Beach County and some parents are growing concerned that the mosquito-borne virus has taken hold here. Yes, parents don’t tend to think too rationally sometimes when it comes to their kids. But who can blame them?

Especially, when the officials they trust to protect their interests are falling down on the job.