Sen. Kaine wants to know why Virginia didn’t get same offshore drilling commitment as Florida

RICHMOND, Va. – The Trump administration said Tuesday that it would not seek to bring oil and gas drilling to the waters off Florida, conceding to vocal opposition from the Republican governor of the tourism-driven state.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke last week unveiled a proposal that would roll back offshore drilling restrictions and open dozens of sites for potential leases. But he also said he would seek input from state and local leaders.

Florida’s Rick Scott (R) was among the coastal governors who spoke up. While Zinke was still making his announcement, the Republican governor said in a statement that he “asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan.”

Zinke traveled to Florida to meet with Scott, Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said. That conversation led to his decision to remove “Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms,” Zinke announced Tuesday evening.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke said.

After this decision Senator Tim Kaine raised his own questions. He wanted to know why the administration decided to exclude Florida from its plan for offshore drilling while not also excluding Virginia.

Kaine responded to a story that the administration was “bowing to pressure” from Gov. Scott, saying it denied a similar request from outgoing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to ban such oil drilling.

“Virginia’s governor (and governor-elect) have made this same request, but we have not received the same commitment. Wonder why…” Kaine wrote.

Other governors also voiced not-in-my-backyard opposition to expanding offshore drilling. Lawmakers and environmentalists could seek to block the plan through congressional action or lawsuits.

It wasn’t clear Tuesday if the administration would make similar decisions for other coastal areas like Virginia.

Zinke had pitched the plan as an important step toward energy independence and noted it could lead to $15 billion in federal revenues.

“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,” he said.