Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he won't allow oil and gas drilling off the Florida coast, after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott Tuesday night.
"President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice," Zinke said after meeting with Scott, a Republican. "I support the governor's position that Florida is unique, and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of a discussion with Gov. Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms."
An Interior Department spokesperson later clarified Zinke is removing the entire eastern Gulf of Mexico from drilling consideration.
Scott and Florida lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, had pressed the Trump administration to not allow drilling off Florida's Gulf coast.
The energy industry had been excited about drilling opportunities in the eastern Gulf, industry sources say, more so than any other area proposed.
The government has a moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf until June 30, 2022, imposed partly because the Pentagon worries oil development would interfere with military testing and training in the area.
President George W. Bush signed into law the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 that bans oil and gas leasing within 125 miles of the Florida coast and other areas of the eastern Gulf until 2022.
But the Trump administration announced last week it plans to open almost all federal waters to oil and gas drilling, including in the eastern Gulf.
Under the Interior Department's draft proposal for offshore drilling, spanning 2019 to 2024, more than 90 percent of the total acres on the Outer Continental Shelf would be made available for leasing. It proposes 47 potential offshore lease sales, the most ever over a five-year period, including 19 sales off the Alaska coast, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico, nine in the Atlantic Ocean and seven in the Pacific.
Oil and gas production in the Gulf, which accounts for almost all current U.S. offshore production, is expected to hit a record high in 2018, after suffering three years of losses. Opening areas in the eastern Gulf would have offered companies strong prospects for oil and gas and easy connections to existing infrastructure.
At least one prominent Democrat is not ready to celebrate Zinke's about-face.
Scott is widely expected to challenge incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., later this year.
Nelson on Tuesday night suggested the Zinke and Scott agreement was a political move.
"I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts," Nelson said. "But now, suddenly, Secretary Zinke announces plans to drill off Florida's coast and four days later agrees to 'take Florida off the table'? I don’t believe it. This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott, who has wanted to drill off Florida's coast his entire career. We shouldn’t be playing politics with the future of Florida."
Other political leaders in states opposing Zinke's plan to allow offshore drilling off their coasts criticized the Interior Department for providing an exception to Florida.
"New York doesn't want drilling off our coast either," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a Twitter post Tuesday night. "Where do we sign up for a waiver?"
Other governors who oppose offshore drilling on their coasts include the leaders of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon, and Washington.
"California is also 'unique' & our 'coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.' Our 'local and state voice' is firmly opposed to any and all offshore drilling," said Xavier Becerra, California's Democratic attorney general, in a Twitter post Tuesday night. "If that's your standard, we, too, should be removed from your list. Immediately."
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.