PolitiFact Florida: Gov. Rick Scott’s Full Flop on oil drilling

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announce there will be no new offshore drilling in the state of Florida. Both met at the Tallahassee International Airport on Tuesday. (SCOTT KEELER   |   Times)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announce there will be no new offshore drilling in the state of Florida. Both met at the Tallahassee International Airport on Tuesday. (SCOTT KEELER | Times)
Published January 15

Gov. Rick Scott met with a member of President Donald Trump’s administration and struck a deal to remove Florida from a list of states proposed for more offshore oil drilling.

"As a result of our interest in making sure that there’s no drilling here, Florida will be taken off the table," Scott said Tuesday, after meeting with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in Tallahassee.

Zinke highlighted Scott’s role in the deal.

"Florida is obviously unique," Zinke said. "For Floridians, we are not drilling off the coast of Florida, and clearly the governor has expressed that it’s important."

Scott’s statement led to claims that he had flip-flopped on offshore oil drilling. We decided to measure whether Scott shifted his position on our Flip-O-Meter.

Scott’s announcement came as the term-limited Republican governor is poised to potentially run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, an opponent of an expansion of drilling.

Scott’s spokespersons argued that Scott made no flip.

"Since 2010, Gov. Scott has consistently said that we must ensure that Florida’s beaches are protected and has made it clear that protecting the environment is his top priority," said Scott spokeswoman Kerri Wyland.

We found that Scott clearly campaigned in 2010 on expanding oil drilling. Today, he opposes an expansion.

PolitiFact Florida has tracked Scott’s stance on oil drilling since his first campaign in 2010. On his campaign website then, he called for more drilling offshore but said the state’s beaches must be protected.

"As we explore the expansion of domestic drilling in the U.S. we must ensure that we have sound policies in place that ensure the companies drilling are doing so in an environmentally sound way and adhering to the strictest of safety standards. .?.?. Rick supports expansion of nuclear power, use of alternative fuels and off-shore drilling."

A Scott campaign spokeswoman told PolitiFact Florida in May 2010 that his campaign had initially posted his position before the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April and later updated it to add the phrase about the environment and safety standards.

During that summer, Scott reiterated his call for safe offshore drilling when meeting with Panhandle fishermen. Scott said drilling wouldn’t happen in the "foreseeable future. .?.?. We are not going to drill now. .?.?. It’s not safe. It doesn’t make any sense."

Scott never took significant steps toward his promise to explore expansion of drilling in a safe, environmentally sound way. We rated his promise broken in 2013.

In April 2017, Trump signed an executive order that aimed to expand offshore drilling. Scott was initially mum. Days later, Scott told the Tampa Bay Times that he hadn’t seen the proposal and declined to comment.

The state Department of Environmental Protection sent an Aug. 17 letter to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management raising concerns about the effects of oil and gas activities on the environment, but didn’t expressly oppose the drilling proposal.

On Jan. 4, Zinke announced a proposal to open up more coastal areas in Florida, California and the Atlantic to drilling.

Scott spoke up quickly on Twitter, saying he opposed drilling:

"Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling — which is something I oppose in Florida. I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration. My top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected, which is why I proposed $1.7 billion for the environment in this year’s budget."

Over the next few days, Scott had multiple meetings with Trump administration officials.

On Tuesday, when asked what caused the Trump administration to change its position on Florida drilling, Zinke said, "The governor."

Oil and gas exploration doesn’t seem to be entirely off the table, though. Zinke said seismic testing still would be allowed, but no new drilling. Susan Glickman, Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said the only reason to allow seismic testing is to find places to drill.

We give Scott a Full Flop.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com/florida.

Also In This Section