Lawmakers demand action after Interior official admits Florida not “off the table” for drilling

Oil Offshore Platform, Photo Date: January 2009 / Divulgacao Petrobras / CC BY 3.0 BR / MGN

WASHINGTON, D.C. (PRESS RELEASE) - A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers Wednesday called on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to remove Florida from the Interior department’s draft five-year offshore oil drilling plan.

The move comes just days after a senior Trump administration official admitted during questioning at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing Friday that an announcement Zinke made in Tallahassee two weeks ago, in which he declared Florida “off the table” for new drilling, was “not an official act” and that Florida “is still being considered under the agency’s proposed plan.”

Last week’s stunning admission by the acting director of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Walter Cruickshank, confirmed what many lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), had been telling their constituents all along – that the announcement Zinke made following a 20-minute meeting with Gov. Rick Scott was nothing more than a “political stunt” and not an announcement of official policy.

Now, in a joint letter to Zinke, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle are weighing in to demand that the secretary take action to officially remove Florida from the plan.

“In light of Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Acting Director Walter Cruickshank’s recent statement before the House Natural Resources Committee that the Planning Areas off Florida’s coasts are still under consideration for offshore drilling, we write to reiterate our strong opposition to any attempt to open up the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling,” the lawmakers wrote. “We object to any efforts to open the eastern Gulf of Mexico to drilling, and we urge you to remove this area from the five-year plan immediately.”

The letter, led by U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), was signed by 22 of Florida’s 27 congressional delegation members – and will serve as the delegation’s official public comment on Interior’s proposed five-year drilling plan.

Almost immediately after Zinke made his announcement, Nelson sent the secretary a letter requesting specific details on any changes made to the agency’s five-year drilling plan. Zinke has not yet responded to that request.

Later that same day, Nelson filed legislation to permanently ban drilling off Florida’s coast. And took to the Senate floor to warn his fellow Floridians that the secretary’s promise to take Florida off the table is “just empty words” until he takes the formal steps necessary to publish a new draft plan.

Nelson announced last week that he has placed a “hold” on three Dept. of the Interior nominees slated to work under Zinke and will keep that hold in place until Zinke rescinds the current draft five-year drilling plan and replaces it with a new draft that fully protects Florida’s coasts.