Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s surprise trip to Tallahassee Tuesday night to announce Florida would no longer be considered for future offshore oil and gas drilling leases has left governors and lawmakers from other coastal states wondering when their voices will be heard as well.
Last week, after the Trump administration released an unprecedented plan to sell off more than 90 percent of America’s oceans to offshore drillers, a large and bipartisan group of elected officials — including at least five Republican governors, two Republican senators, and 15 Republican U.S. representatives from coastal states, along with scores of Democrats — denounced the proposal.
Unlike other extreme Trump administration proposals, offshore oil drilling has long been opposed by coastal state residents and their elected representatives, including many Republicans. This is due to the direct threat drilling poses to treasured natural, economic, and cultural resources from whales and dolphins to beaches to commercial fisheries.
Now that Zinke has delivered a (likely illegal) deal to relieve Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) of the threat drilling poses to Florida’s tourism economy many lawmakers are seeking similar promise of an exemption for the waters off their states. Yet they may be disappointed if new reports about the motivation for Tuesday’s announcement prove correct.
Zinke’s tweeted statement singled out one state to have its “local and state voice” taken into consideration for being “heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” yet these criteria clearly apply to communities along every coast.
California’s coastal recreation and tourism industry by some measures exceeds that of Florida — generating $16.55 billion in GDP in 2011, to Florida’s $9.5 billion — yet Zinke has yet to announce a similar meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown (D).
It’s no surprise that Democrats who have spoken up unanimously oppose the plan to open more than 90 percent of America’s ocean to oil drilling, but there has also been ample Republican outcry as well. Here’s a roundup of how the plan has been received in regions that have historically opposed offshore oil and gas exploration.
While there are few Republicans to be found among New England’s federal and statewide elected officials, with the lone exception of Maine Gov. Paul LePage, those who are in office have all opposed opening their waters to the oil and gas industry.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) joined with her independent colleague in sending a letter to Zinke opposing “any effort to open waters off the coast of Maine or any proximate area to offshore drilling” citing the excessive risk to Maine’s fisheries and the $1.7 billion lobster industry in particular. Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R) also followed the lead of his Democratic colleague Rep. Chellie Pingree in opposition.
Similarly, the Republican governors of New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Chris Sununu and Charlie Baker, asserted their disapproval, with the former saying “of course” he opposes drilling off New Hampshire’s coast.
As with their neighbors to the north, the coastal regions of the mid-Atlantic states are heavily represented by Democrats, but several Republicans were quick to announce their opposition following the release of the draft plan. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was first out of the gate and followed his initial announcement with a request today for Zinke to give New Jersey the same deal he gave Florida. He was joined by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland.
Meanwhile, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) tweeted his opposition on the day of the announcement.
ABSOLUTELY WRONG APPROACH for #SouthJersey & Atlantic Ocean. Previous attempts to lift ban met w/ fierce bipartisan rejection across New Jersey & up/down East Coast. Will be met w/ STRONGER opposition now. Coastal communities have spoken clearly & ready to take fight head-on! https://t.co/4fmIreUq8P
— Frank LoBiondo (@RepLoBiondo) January 4, 2018
And Tuesday, Virginia Beach Rep. Scott Taylor (R) also joined the offshore drilling resistance, saying “every locality” in his district has opposed it, as has the U.S. Navy.
In addition to Scott’s sudden reversal of his previous position on offshore drilling, eight Republican representatives from Florida expressed their opposition and were joined by Sen. Marco Rubio (R).
Further north, Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) continued his outspoken opposition to offshore drilling, citing his opinion that “locals should have some control over what happens in their backyard.” He further cited the 140 coastal communities along the east coast that have expressed their opinion that drilling has no place in their ocean. Sanford’s colleague in representing South Carolina’s coast in Congress, Rep. Tom Rice (R), also announced his opposition to Atlantic drilling.
The three Democratic governors of California, Oregon, and Washington issued a join statement following the release of the new plan, resoundingly opposing any drilling off their shores. Somewhat surprisingly, the only Republican member of the California delegation to follow suit has been Rep. Darryl Issa, who, perhaps not coincidentally, also announced Wednesday that he would not seek reelection in 2018.
Meanwhile, up the coast in Washington, Republican Reps. Jamie Herrera-Buetler and Dave Reichert joined with their Democratic colleagues in condemning Trump’s proposal.
Michael Conathan is the director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within CAP.