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Florida Democrats warn oil drilling plans may still be alive

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Washington, January 19, 2018 | comments
Florida Democrats seized Friday on remarks from a Trump administration official that no final decisions have been made on oil drilling.
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By Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times, published Jan. 19, 2018

(Story also posted by Miami Herald)

Florida Democrats seized Friday on remarks from a Trump administration official that no final decisions have been made on oil drilling.

"BREAKING: Key administration official admits Florida is not 'off the table' for drilling," read an email blast from Sen. Bill Nelson, who has battled with Gov. Rick Scott over the issue.

But it's not quite that clean.

During a House Natural Resources Committee hearing this morning, Walter Cruickshank, the Trump administration's director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was pressed on the Florida exemption to a broad offshore drilling plan and said that "we have no formal decision yet on what's in or out of the five-year program."

But Cruickshank repeatedly said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's statement about Florida "stands for itself" and noted Florida had been treated differently in the past.

After that exchange, Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, sought clarity. Cruickshank said the entire program would be evaluated but again said Zinke's statement stands and would be taken into account.

"Cruikshank simply said BOEM will finish the legally-required analysis of the planning areas, as is always done for all planning areas," Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift told the Tampa Bay Times.

In or out? Democrats and environmentalists took the dim view, even though Cruikshank seemed to be trying to massage the bad politics the Florida carve-out has created, with officials in other coastal states wanting to be exempt too.

"The administration is playing hokey pokey with Florida's coasts," said Jennifer Rubiello of Environment Florida. "First they put them in, then they take them out, and now this morning we hear they aren't out after all. We're getting shaken all about."

Said Nelson: "This confirms what we all suspected: there is no deal to protect Florida from drilling. What we saw last week was just political theater, and the people of Florida should be outraged. Drilling off of Florida's coast is a real threat to our state and we should all be working together to protect our coasts – not playing politics with an issue that's so important to our future."

@learyreports: Bureaucrat danced around a bit but repeatedly said Zinke's statement stands and would be taken into account with overall drilling plans. I wouldn't bite on idea Trump admin backtracked as much as it's trying to smooth over problem created by Fla carve out.

@USRepKCastor: BOEM Dir. Cruickshank said Florida is not off the table for offshore drilling activities, contradicting Interior Sec. Zinke. The only way to fully protect Florida’s economy & environment from oil drilling is to extend the moratorium permanently.

Following an appearance Friday afternoon at a National Guard event in Miami, Scott said he hadn't heard Cruickshank's comments but was clear on the commitment he had from Zinke.

"Secretary Zinke is a man of his word. He's a Navy Seal. He promised me that Florida would be off the table and I believe Florida will be off the table," Scott said.

"By the way, with offshore drilling, our entire Florida delegation is against it," Scott added. "This shouldn't be about politics. We should be happy with what Secretary Zinke did. We should be happy he took oil drilling off the table."

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