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Group sues for records related to Gov. Rick Scott’s oil drilling exemption

Scott scored an agreement from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to exempt the state from oil drilling plans.
FL Gov. Rick Scott and US Dept of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announce there will be no new offshore oil drilling in the State of Florida. Both held a meeting and press conference at the Tallahassee International Airport, Tuesday. (Times | Scott Keeler)
FL Gov. Rick Scott and US Dept of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announce there will be no new offshore oil drilling in the State of Florida. Both held a meeting and press conference at the Tallahassee International Airport, Tuesday. (Times | Scott Keeler)
Published May 25, 2018

WASHINGTON -A group called American Oversight is suing the Interior Department for records related to the decision to exempt Florida from a broad offshore oil drilling plan.

The suit seeks emails and other records related to offshore drilling in 14 coastal states including Florida, the group said, questioning the politics behind Secretary Ryan Zinke's much-hyped January announcement with Gov. Rick Scott, now a candidate for U.S. Senate.

Independently, on Feb. 1, the Tampa Bay Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Interior records related to the Zinke-Scott meeting. The FOIA process can be slow, though the request seems pretty uncomplicated.

"At this time we are still waiting on a program office to send us any potentially responsive records as we do not retain records in the OS FOIA office," an official told the Times on April 24. "Once we have those records, we can begin processing them.  While we cannot provide you a timeline at this point, please be assured we are working to complete your request as promptly as we can."

Scott's campaign told Politico, which first reported the lawsuit, that it was politically motivated.

"The reality is that because of Governor Scott's efforts, offshore drilling is off the table and Bill Nelson refuses to celebrate, or even accept, this reality," spokesman Ryan Patmintra said.

Said American Oversight:

American Oversight's lawsuit comes after DOI failed to provide records in response to two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The first FOIA request targeted communications between DOI officials and Florida politicians and lobbying groups, including Scott, Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association, and the American Energy Alliance.

The second FOIA request sought DOI communications with officials in the thirteen coastal states in the contiguous United States besides Florida with gubernatorial elections in 2018, including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Texas. The request also sought DOI analyses related to offshore drilling in those states.