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Florida Receives Offshore Drilling Exemption; Others Want It, Too


Authorities in many coastal states say they want Florida's deal. The Trump administration exempted Florida from offshore oil and gas drilling, and that prompts a question - why Florida and not anywhere else? Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: When the Trump administration unveiled a plan to greatly expand offshore drilling, in Florida the response was quick. Nearly every member of the state's congressional delegation opposed the plan. Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, included himself in the opposition and said he'd seek an immediate meeting with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to discuss his concerns. Earlier this week, after a short meeting with Scott at the Tallahassee airport, Zinke said he'd changed his mind.


RYAN ZINKE: We are going to take the new oil platforms, new oil, gas platforms, off the table off the Florida coastlines. And so for Floridians, we are not drilling off the coast of Florida.

ALLEN: Drilling for oil and gas has never been allowed off of Florida's coasts. Because of the importance of pristine beaches to the state's tourist economy, Democrats and Republicans alike have mostly opposed offshore drilling. After Zinke's announcement, Scott said he'd, quote, "never stopped fighting for Florida's environment and our pristine coastline." But that statement surprised some environmentalists.

ALIKI MONCRIEF: Really, over the last seven years, he's never stood out as an environmental champion. He's done really the opposite.

ALLEN: Aliki Moncrief, with the environmental group Florida Conservation Voters, says Scott opposed a state constitutional amendment that would have banned drilling off the coasts. More recently, Moncrief says, he didn't speak out when the Trump administration weakened drilling safety regulations.

MONCRIEF: So while I think everyone welcomes him standing up with the rest of us and the rest of our elected officials in opposing offshore oil drilling, it feels like political theater.

ALLEN: For conspiracy theorists, the fact that Scott had lunch with Trump at Mar-a-Lago just days before the offshore drilling plan was announced just thickens the plot. The Trump-owned private club is on the Atlantic in Palm Beach with its own white sand beach. Scott, who is finishing his second term as Florida governor, is expected to announce soon he's entering the race for the U.S. Senate, running against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Nelson is calling Zinke's reversal a political stunt designed by the Trump administration to help Scott. Nelson spoke yesterday on the floor of the Senate.


BILL NELSON: The administration and Secretary Zinke shouldn't be playing politics with an issue that is so important to all of our futures but especially so to Florida's future.

ALLEN: The news that Florida was receiving a special exemption from offshore drilling was hardly out before governors and other officials from coastal states began asking for similar treatment. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted, New York doesn't want drilling off our coast either. Where do we sign up for a waiver? In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican, said he'll take steps to file his own appeal with the Trump administration.


HENRY MCMASTER: We cannot afford to take a chance with the beauty, the majesty and the economic value and vitality of our wonderful coastline in South Carolina.

ALLEN: A spokesman for Zinke says there will be many opportunities for public comment on the offshore drilling plan and that governors of other states are invited to submit requests to discuss the issue.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.