Zinke clarifies offshore drilling stance, Florida's exemption

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- No new drilling off Florida. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke renewing his stance that the Sunshine State is off the table after the Trump administration announced plans to lift offshore drilling bans.

Our Washington Correspondent Alana Austin spoke to Zinke and Senator Bill Nelson, who still has doubts.

"Well, Florida - what I said is no new oil and gas platforms," said Zinke.

Zinke reaffirming comments he made that oil drilling won't happen off the Florida coastline.

Zinke made those comments after receiving pushback from Florida lawmakers and the governor, upset over the Trump administration's plans to allow new oil rigs off California, Alaska, and the Eastern Seaboard.

Zinke says the plan was simply a starting point.

"Local communities and this President has made it clear that the voice of America matters and local communities and states' voice matter," said Zinke.

Now, governors from other coastal states like Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina want the same exemption.

Alana asked Zinke, "Is any of this political? That Florida has a number of GOP heavy-hitters and, you know, is there going to be an exception for them, and what about the other states?"

"When you look at, again, on both sides - Republican and Democrat - were against it," Zinke said, "I guess in a political environment people criticize me for no matter what I do. It's ok. I'm gonna do the right thing."

Zinke said he felt Florida's geographical features put it in a unique position: "I said 'no new oil and gas platforms off the coast of Florida' and it's not capricious or arbitrary. Florida because of the conditions I talked about, that's where I sit."

Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson isn't buying Zinke's word that his state will be exempt from offshore drilling.

Nelson said, "Well, first of all, it's a political stunt. He came to Tallahassee, had a 20-minute press conference, said Florida's off the table. It was obviously designed for political purposes, but voila, he couldn't do that legally."

Instead, Nelson says the administration needs to take formal action to exempt Florida's waters from drilling. Nelson says without that, important military installations and a multi-billion-dollar tourism industry would be endangered.

"Look at the BP oil spill, 10 years ago. The spill was off of Louisiana. The winds took it to Pensacola Beach. It blackened the beach. We lost tourists for an entire year," said Nelson.

In a statement, Governor Rick Scott's office told us: "Governor Scott has consistently said that we must ensure that Florida's beaches are protected. The Governor has made it clear that protecting the environment is his top priority, and is against drilling off of Florida's coasts. He's thankful that following working with the Department of Interior, Secretary Zinke has committed to not drilling off of Florida's coasts. The Governor is confident he will live up to his commitment.

Additionally, our office has spoken with the Department of Interior last month and they have reaffirmed Secretary Zinke's commitment to not expand offshore oil drilling off Florida's coast."

Meanwhile, Zinke says the administration will continue to accept feedback from other state and local officials who could be impacted by federal plans.

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