UPDATE: Following is a comment from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s admission today that Florida is not “off the table” to new drilling:
“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.”
At a House Natural Resources Committee hearing this morning, Walter Cruickshank, the Trump administration’s director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), admitted during questioning that Florida is not “off the table” for offshore oil drilling.
When asked to justify why Florida got a special carve out, Cruickshank shocked the panel when he responded, “We have no formal decision yet on what’s in, or out, of the five-year program.”
“So there’s been no decision to exempt Florida?” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) interjected. “The secretary’s statement stands for itself,” the administration official responded.
The stunning admission confirms what many Florida lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), had suspected 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.
Just minutes after Cruickshank admitted there has been no formal action taken to take Florida off the table, Florida Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) asked him to explain and further clarify exactly what he meant by the secretary’s statement “stands on its own.”
“By ‘stand on its own’ … it’s not an official action, is that what you mean?” Soto asked. “It is not a formal action, no,” the official admitted.
“So there has been no formal action to remove Florida from the five year drilling plan, as of right now?” Soto asked. “We will be including it in the analysis,” Cruickshank responded.
Immediately after Zinke made his announcement last week, 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 of 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 Wednesday 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.
Interior’s admission today that – despite Zinke’s announcement – Florida is still on the table for new offshore drilling comes just days after Interior held its first public meeting on the plan. The maps Interior officials used during that meeting showed the waters off of Florida were still open to drilling. (Pictures taken at the meeting available here and here.)