WASHINGTON -Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is defending a decision to remove Florida from an offshore oil drilling plan, saying it was the "right move" given widespread political opposition and a current moratorium that lasts until 2022.
"Florida is different," Zinke said in an interview with Breitbart News, which followed an Axios report that described the secretary as having gone "rogue" and upsetting President Donald Trump.
Zinke said Florida is different in geology and the eastern Gulf if already off limits, until 2022, due to federal law. Moreover, he said, there is unanimous opposition from political leaders, including Gov. Rick Scott who got a meeting with Zinke a couple weeks ago that led to the "off the table" declaration.
"It was the right move to remove Florida's coastline from consideration," Zinke said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whom Scott is likely to challenge for re-election this year, called it a political stunt and has warned that plans were not "off the table."
That point was amplified Friday when an Interior official told a House committee that no final decision had been made — but said Zinke's comments would be reflected in the end.
"Florida has a moratorium, by federal law, that prevents drilling until 2022," Zinke said. "Every member of the Florida delegation wrote me personally. The governor, who is a friend, asked for an immediate meeting, and the executive order which the president signed did not include the Eastern Gulf for review."
Axios reported Sunday, not long before Zinke appeared on the Breitbart radio program, that "Trump has made clear to Zinke that he's angry about this move, according to two sources with direct knowledge. Zinke's decision is both legally and politically dangerous for the Trump administration. Zinke did not coordinate with anybody, and gave the White House no forewarning of his controversial action."
Zinke did not say he'd spoken with Trump prior to going to Tallahassee to appear with Scott but insisted he and the president were on the same page.
The Tampa Bay Times has asked the White House and Interior for clarity and as of 11 a.m. had not yet received a response.