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Rubio urges Trump’s Interior nominee: No offshore drilling

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he wants to meet with Interior Department officials before green-lighting Katharine MacGregor as the second-highest Interior Department official.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday he’s holding up a vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee to oversee the Interior Department’s next five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing.

Rubio said he wants to meet with Interior Department officials before green-lighting Katharine MacGregor as the second-highest Interior Department official under Secretary David Bernhardt.

“I need to have a further conversation with Interior about the future of offshore drilling. When it comes to Florida, it’s a unanimous delegation position,” Rubio said in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Reuters first reported that Rubio planned to hold MacGregor’s nomination, which advanced out of the Senate Energy Committee last month and is now awaiting a vote from the full Senate.

MacGregor is working in an acting capacity as she awaits Senate confirmation. The Trump administration is considering opening up the eastern Gulf of Mexico along with Florida’s Atlantic coast for potential offshore drilling, a plan that is politically toxic for Democrats and Republicans in Florida.

Rubio said he wants a “continued assurance that the issues of Florida are going to be taken into account if and when Interior finally makes a determination in the future of that area.” He also wants to extend an existing moratorium on oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that expires in 2022 by five years to 2027.

“At a minimum, we want the moratorium extended, and I think we’ll have a good conversation with Interior about it. They’ve been open and cooperative in the past and so sometimes these holds are a good way to speed up these conversations,” Rubio said.

An Interior Department spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Rubio and Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott support a five-year moratorium on drilling, even though the House of Representatives passed a bill in September that would permanently ban offshore drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast. Every single House member from Florida, with the exception of Republican Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, voted for the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act sponsored by Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Naples.

“The problem with the permanent one, the one Congressman Rooney passed, I just don’t think we can get that passed,” Rubio said, referring to the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

“I do think we could get the moratorium extended. If I thought we could do it permanently, we would, but I just don’t think we can get the votes here to do that. But I do think we have a chance to get the moratorium extended.”

Rubio added that he thinks the Trump administration and Interior Department are “friendly” to the five-year moratorium.

The Interior Department proposed last year to open up 90% of U.S. coastal waters in the outer continental shelf, which encompasses the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean waters around Florida that are more than nine nautical miles from land.

But a federal judge blocked the proposal, which included reversing drilling bans in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans that were enacted under President Barack Obama.