An Interior Department official said Friday that Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recent announcement that Florida’s shores are “off the table” for oil and natural gas drilling does not represent official policy and is subject to official review.
Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which manages offshore leasing, said Zinke’s commitment to withdraw Florida from drilling is not a “formal action” and the state remains subject to the government’s official analysis.
“We are following the process conducting a full analysis of all areas included in the draft proposed program,” Cruickshank said at a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee. “[Florida is] still a part of the analysis until the secretary gives us an official position.”
The Interior Department published its draft five-year offshore drilling plan in the Federal Register on Jan. 8, proposing to open nearly all federal waters to oil and gas drilling.
One day later, after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Zinke announced he was taking Florida “off the table” for any new drilling.
But Zinke has not provided any details of changes to the five-year plan, Cruickshank said.
Democrats jumped on Cruickshank’s remarks, suggesting the confusion shows Zinke’s word cannot be trusted.
“Instead of carefully following laws and regulations, this administration writes policy on a napkin, announces it on social media and calls it a day,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona, the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee. “Our nation’s oceans and coastlines are being managed by an out-of-control administration with incompetent top leadership. Secretary Zinke’s tweet either represents official policy, in which case he’ll lose in court, or it doesn’t, in which case he shouldn’t have announced it in the first place. Both options are deeply embarrassing for this administration and unacceptable to the American people who demand better environmental stewardship.”
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., this week said he is blocking the confirmation of three Interior Department nominees until Zinke formally removes Florida from the plan.
Zinke has emphasized his offshore drilling proposal is not final and is subject to a 60-day public comment period, during which he said he would consult with state leaders and other stakeholders.