Keep Florida’s Gulf Coast open for business — and closed to oil drilling

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Clearwater Beach, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, has been named one of the top beaches in the world.
Clearwater Beach, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, has been named one of the top beaches in the world. Getty Images

When it comes to the threat of oil drilling off Florida’s coasts, the majority of the state’s Congressional delegation has our back. As for Gov. Rick Scott, he just might stab us in it.

Last week, 24 of Florida’s 27 lawmakers demanded in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that he come down firmly against drilling off the state’s coasts. A definitive answer has been elusive, and the Trump administration as slippery as an oil slick. Speaking of which …

Through executive order, the administration intends to open up new swaths of federal waters to oil and gas drilling, including areas that have been safely off-limits for years.

The Interior Department proposes to put up for auction leases to allow drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic. And, in a bone-headed display of regression, it would back off of safety regulations installed after the BP oil spill in 2010.

Coastal state governors, in a bipartisan howl, made their opposition clear. Florida’s Gov. Scott — a newly minted but, perhaps, temporary environmentalist — had for months been mum about the possibility of drilling, then sprang into action. After a meeting with Zinke, Scott had an announcement of his own: There would be no new drilling off Florida’s coasts.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver (so) I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms,” Zinke said in a statement.

While Floridians breathed a sigh of relief, those in other states rightly asked: What about us? After all, it’s not as if the beaches of California, or Virginia, or Georgia, or North Carolina are any less valuable assets to those states. But neither consistency nor well-thought-out policy have been this administration’s strong suits.

And those states don’t have the president’s Mar-a-Lago mansion or a Republican governor who needs to score political points if he seeks election to the U.S. Senate. But, should Scott win that seat, will he remain staunchly anti-drilling or ease off his opposition?

Then, Florida’s good no-drilling news turned sour when Walter Cruikshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, in a statement before the House Natural Resources Committee said that drilling areas off Florida still were under consideration.

Which is it, then?

Florida lawmakers’ letter to Zinke makes a strong case in opposition, citing national security, the presence of military pilot training and rocket-testing sites and the potential — already seen in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill — for “devastating losses in the tourism revenues upon which the entire state relies.”

Thursday, in an email to the Herald Editorial Board, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who signed the letter, along with Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart did not — said: “I was very pleased to learn that Gov. Scott changed his position on offshore drilling. Florida’s natural resources are already combating the adverse effects of climate change, and offshore drilling could be calamitous.

“I sincerely hope that Gov. Scott’s opposition is genuine and not an act of subterfuge to trick Floridians into believing that he is an environmentalist in an election year. To convince skeptics he will need to make a similarly convincing argument to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and join the Florida congressional delegation in our vocal opposition to offshore drilling. This is a battle that is going to require force from all fronts.”

She’s right. The governor will continue to be a steward of this state should he ascend to the Senate. He needs to be unwaveringly vigilant on Florida’s behalf. He needs to have our back.