Scott is a priority for the GOP
Trump and senior aides inside the White House have urged Scott to run for Senate
It helps to be a Republican governor on Donald Trump’s side.
Days after the Trump administration opened the possibility of offshore oil and gas drilling in long restricted areas on both the East and West coasts of the United States, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that Florida – the state with the second most coastline in the nation – would be spared from the new order, handing Gov. Rick Scott a sizeable win ahead of a possible White House-backed Senate run.
And it has nearly every other coastal state governor – Democrats and Republicans – crying foul, demanding the same treatment.
It is unclear whether they will get it. Scott, after all, is a priority for the GOP.
Trump and senior aides inside the White House – both publicly and privately – have urged Scott to run for Senate, hoping that the Republican governor will challenge Florida Democrat Bill Nelson and possibly help stem a blue wave in 2018. The White House political office has made Scott a key recruit and have urged the President to lean on Scott whenever he can.
“I hope this man right here, Rick Scott, runs for the Senate,” Trump said while touring hurricane damage last year.
In a nod to Scott’s standing inside the administration, Zinke even traveled to Florida to discuss the decision with the governor and gave the him almost all of the credit for protecting his state’s coastline.
The decision, which came after Scott criticized opening up offshore drilling as bad for his tourism-focused state, has been slammed by environmental groups as politically craven, proof that Trump is “playing politics” with his drilling decisions.
“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 in a statement. “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 discussion with Governor Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”
Nelson, Scott’s possible opponent in 2018, slammed the maneuver.
“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts,” he said in a statement. “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.”
Heather Swift, spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said there were no politics involved in the decision to give Florida a waiver from Interior’s offshore drilling decision, arguing that any coastal governor can request a meeting with Secretary Zinke.
“There is no ‘politics behind’ it, it’s a very open and public process that actually centers around a series of public comment periods and revisions,” Swift said.
“The secretary has said since day one that he is interested in hearing the local voice. Governor Scott requested a meeting the day the plan was released. If other governors would like to request meetings with the secretary, they are absolutely welcome to do so. As of 10:30 we had requests from NC and SC.”
And White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said Zinke is working to find “the most responsible and environmentally sound path forward,” dismissing the idea that politics were behind the decision to except Florida.
Governors demand same treatment
Zinke’s decision has led to extensive complaints by other coastal governors who have already staked out not-in-my-backyard opposition to expanding offshore drilling, often on the same tourism concerns Florida has.
GOP Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire told reporters “of course” he opposed drilling off the New Hampshire coast.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster – a vocal Trump supporter – told reporters in South Carolina on Wednesday that he opposes Trump’s offshore drilling plan and will take “appropriate steps” to counter it, according to video provided to CNN.
“I am opposed to off shore drilling of South Carolina’s shore. I am opposed to seismic testing off of South Carolina shore,” he said. “We cannot take a chance with those resources, those industry and that economy. It is just too important. This is a matter of serious importance to us in South Carolina.”
When asked if he will push for a waiver from the Trump administration, McMaster said, “I will be taking appropriate steps and there will be more news later.”
Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan said his administration would use “any viable legal claims, actions or suits against the US government to prevent.”
A spokesperson for Nathan Deal said the Republican Georgia governor had “some concerns with opening up Georgia’s pristine coastlines which he will convey to the congressional delegation.”
And a spokesperson for Charlie Baker, the popular Republican governor of Massachusetts, said Wednesday that he opposes Trump’s plan to allow offshore drilling up the East Coast.
Democrats were just as upset.
“New York doesn’t want drilling off our coast either. Where do we sign up for a waiver @SecretaryZinke,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted.
“For more than 30 years, our shared coastline has been protected from further federal drilling and we’ll do whatever it takes to stop this reckless, short-sighted action,” California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee – the three West Coast governors, all Democrats – said in a statement.
Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, took to Twitter to rhetorically ask why Florida was treated differently than Virginia in Trump’s offshore drilling decision.
“Virginia’s governor (and governor-elect) have made this same request, but we have not received the same commitment. Wonder why,” Kaine tweeted, referring to two Democratic leaders of the commonwealth.
“We’d like a word in Virginia,” Ralph Northam, the state’s governor-elect, tweeted in response to Zinke.
And Roy Cooper, the Democratic governor of North Carolina, responded to a Zinke tweet: “Is this thing on? I’ll try again: Not Off Our Coast – RC”
The only coastal governor – Democrat or Republican – seemingly supportive of the plan is Republican Gov. Paul LePage of Maine, whose spokeswoman told CNN on Wednesday that while he has not reviewed all the details of the Interior plan, he “generally supports efforts to make good use of our indigenous resources and improve the United States’ energy independence and security.”
The decision to exempt Florida could also open the Trump administration to legal challenges, allowing states not exempted to complain that the decision is arbitrary because one state was left off the list because Zinke talked with the governor.
“Two days in, the Trump administration has shown us exactly what their offshore drilling proposal is all about and it has nothing to do with listening to local and state voices, economics, or science. This is about playing politics with our coast,” Sierra Weaver, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.
“If it was anything but that, Secretary Zinke would have announced tonight that he was removing Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, where offshore drilling has already been rejected by local and state voices,” Weaver added.
CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.