Florida is so darn special that we don’t have to let BP or ExxonMobil drill oil wells offshore. That’s what the Trump administration now says.
So quit your whining, both Carolinas.
Put a sock in it, Maryland. Chill out, California.
Zip your lip, Virginia.
Never miss a local story.
Last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unexpectedly exempted only Florida from Trump’s sweeping new plan to open once-protected coastal waters to oil and gas exploration.
“Unique” is how Zinke described the Sunshine State, and, by golly, we are. Here’s one thing that makes us different from the other seaboard states whose economies would be walloped by a major oil spill:
Rick Scott, our Republican governor, needed a favor.
He is currently undergoing conversion therapy to become an environmentalist in time for the 2018 election, when he’ll be running for the U.S. Senate against a longtime incumbent Democrat, Bill Nelson.
Changing Scott’s image is a challenge because he’s spent the past seven years gutting our Department of Environmental Regulation, stacking the regional water boards with pro-development political allies, slashing funds for the purchase of conservation lands and purging the term “climate change” from the state vocabulary.
Until a week or so ago, Scott had expressed few worries about the threats posed by oil exploration. During his first run for governor, he opposed not only a state constitutional ban on coastal drilling, but even a moratorium.
At the time he took that unpopular position, the Deepwater Horizon rig was still spewing millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.
Last summer, when Trump officials began disseminating plans to scrap the ban on near-shore drilling, Scott was one of the few coastal governors who didn’t make a peep.
He’s a loyal pal of the president, you understand.
But when the new federal drilling policy became official on Jan. 4, somebody evidently pulled Scott aside and explained that he’d have to address the subject if he didn’t want to get burned in the upcoming Senate race. Bill Nelson has been a vocal opponent of offshore drilling for decades.
So our shy governor mustered his courage and spoke up in opposition to the Trump plan. He even wrote some letters!
And, lo and behold, last week Secretary Zinke flew to the Tallahassee airport and met with Scott for 20 enlightening minutes. Afterwards, in a statement praising everything but Scott’s choice of socks, Zinke proclaimed:
“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. … I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”
That’s when the jealous sniping started.
Other governors, lawmakers and officials from both parties are saying their states also depend on clean beaches and clean water for tourism, recreation and commercial fishing. Why aren’t they getting the same consideration as Florida?
“Outrageous,” fumed Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat who said she’d also reached out to Zinke but never got a response.
Another critic, GOP congressman and former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford said, “I mean, you can’t say, ‘I don’t want to see an oil rig from Mar-a-Lago as you look out from the waters of Palm Beach, but it’s OK to look at an oil rig from Hilton Head or Charleston.”
Hey, it’s not our fault there’s no Trump waterfront resort in South Carolina. If there were, you folks wouldn’t have to stress about someday gazing across the waves at a drilling platform. You’d probably be exempt, just like us!
Anyhow, most of the rigs will be too far away to ruin the view. The Deepwater Horizon, remember, was 41 miles at sea.
If it makes you feel better about Florida’s free pass, Scott could easily revert to his pro-drilling stance if he gets to the Senate. Previously he has flip-flopped on other big issues, such as Medicaid, once he stopped campaigning.
Healthy oceans benefit everyone, so some of us feel sort of guilty that Trump chose our state above the others — though not too guilty to experience relief.
Whether the president cut us a break because he wants to help his buddy Rick win the election, or because he doesn’t want tar balls on the beach at Mar-a-Lago, the result is the same: We’ve been spared from the specter of a near-shore oil disaster, at least for a while.
It’s good to be special. And maybe if your governor can get Ryan Zinke alone for 20 minutes — and Trump buys a mansion on your coast — you can be special, too.