Advertisement
  1. Opinion

A new senator's responsibility on drilling

Vice President Mike Pence administers the Senate oath of office to Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., accompanied by his wife Ann during a mock swearing in ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, as the 116th Congress begins. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Vice President Mike Pence administers the Senate oath of office to Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., accompanied by his wife Ann during a mock swearing in ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, as the 116th Congress begins. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Published Jan. 28

A year ago this month, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew to the Tallahassee airport and in a hastily arranged press conference with Gov. Rick Scott announced that Florida would be exempt from the Trump administration's broad new plan to expand offshore drilling. The message and the timing was a boon for the Republican governor as he prepared to challenge Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who had long opposed drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Now Zinke is gone, and with no real agreement on the exemption in place it falls to new Sen. Rick Scott to be as unequivocal and outspoken in opposing drilling as the incumbent he defeated in November.

The joint appearance in January 2018 was nakedly political, but it was good news for Florida and a seeming indication that the Trump administration had recognized that Florida's geography and economy made it - as Zinke pronounced then - "obviously unique" in any consideration of expanding federal offshore leasing areas. The announcement also had the effect of broadening the bipartisan base of opposition in Florida to offshore drilling. But just days after Zinke's Tallahassee trip, the head of the Interior Department agency that manages offshore leasing said the secretary's announcement was "not a formal action." And two months later, as other coastal states decried what they called Florida's special treatment, Zinke conceded during a House committee meeting that "Florida did not get an exemption" from the administration's drilling plan.

Zinke's resignation late last year in the face of numerous ethics investigations only further muddies the waters. The exemption was never codified into policy or subjected to formal public review. That has many wondering: Was there ever a deal, and is it enforceable? The Trump administration has yet to unveil a framework for carrying out its drilling plans, which was expected by the end of last year. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, is so convinced an exemption doesn't exist that he plans to work in the new Congress to ensure drilling off Florida is banned by law.

Scott came late in his opposition to drilling. He supported offshore drilling when he first ran for governor in 2010. Unlike other coastal states, Florida under Scott did not oppose the Trump plan when first solicited for feedback, according to the Interior Department's proposal. That's all the more reason for the new senator to carry on Nelson's advocacy on the issue.

Under a bipartisan congressional deal reached in 2006 that was pushed by Nelson and signed into law by President George W. Bush, drilling is barred within 235 miles of Tampa Bay and 125 miles from the Panhandle until June 2022. The areas off-limits include a wide swath the U.S. Navy and Air Force use for military training missions. Nelson previously filed legislation to extend the existing ban in the eastern gulf an additional five years, until 2027, along with a separate measure to make the ban permanent. This is the only course for guaranteeing that drilling rigs won't litter the Florida coast.

Scott needs to be specific and unreserved about his opposition to drilling. He should work with other members of Florida's delegation on a bipartisan strategy to protect Florida's shores.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. There are great programs in Hillsborough public schools to provide free or low-cost breakfast and lunch for students who qualify.
    Proposed changes by the Trump administration would make some students go hungry.
  2. A CH-47 Chinook helicopter takes off after dropping soldiers in Bagh village of Khakeran Valley, Zabul province, Afghanistan. [TOMAS MUNITA  |  AP]
    Here’s what readers had to say in Wedneday’s letters to the editor.
  3. Technology jobs in industries including aerospace are highly coveted. A SpaceX Falcon heavy rocket lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral earlier this year. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
    Five metro areas dominate high-tech employment. There isn’t a Florida city among them.
  4.  [Bill Day -- FloridaPolitics.com]
  5. Yesterday• Letters to the Editor
    Pinellas County tourism officials are selling area beaches in two places that need them most this time of year: NYC and Chicago. [Tampa Tribune]
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  6. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly, center, and Navy Adm. Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations, look on as an Air Force carry team moves a transfer case containing the remains of Navy Seaman Mohammed Sameh Haitham, of St. Petersburg on Sunday at Dover Air Force Base, Del. A Saudi gunman killed three people including Haitham in a shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) [CLIFF OWEN  |  AP]
    Service members like Mohammed “Mo” Haitham of St. Petersburg should not be at risk of being killed on a base in their home state.
  7. The effects of Red Tide are seen at Pass-a-Grille Beach in St. Petersburg in Sept. 2018 where hundreds, perhaps thousands of fish lie dead on the beach. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    A state task force meets this week in St. Petersburg to listen and discuss the options.
  8. Pasco County letters to the editor
  9. Hernando County community news [Tara McCarty]
    Hernando County letters to the editor
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement