A last-minute meeting at the Tallahassee Airport turned into a political victory for Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday when the Trump administration announced offshore drilling was “off the table” for the Sunshine State.
Added to Scott’s daily schedule was a late meeting with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. An hour after an email of the governor’s new schedule went out, Zinke and Scott were meeting face-to-face.
Twenty minutes after that, Scott made the announcement that Florida would not be the place for offshore drilling.
“By removing Florida from consideration, we can now focus on how we can further protect our environment, including our proposal for record funding for the Everglades, our springs, our beaches and our state parks,” Scott said Tuesday.
The announcement comes just days after the Trump administration announced it would be opening up a large area for offshore oil drilling, much to the disappointment and criticism of many politicians and environmentalists.
The announcement also comes at a pivotal time for Scott, who is widely rumored to be contemplating a bid for U.S. Senate later this year.
Scott has spent the last few years developing close ties with both President Donald Trump and his administration and is seen as one of the president’s top political supporters — a support which seems to go both ways.
Zinke tipped his hat to Scott’s “leadership” during last year’s hurricane season and Everglades restoration, calling him “straightforward” and a “leader that can be trusted.”
“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 of the announcement.
Zinke said coastal damage from Hurricane Irma was another reason the administration was taking Florida out of consideration for offshore drilling.
“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coast is heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke said.
Offshore drilling was supported by politicians from both sides of the aisle in Florida, but one public figure in particular — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — wasn’t entirely happy with Tuesday’s announcement.
It’s likely Scott will challenge Nelson in his reelection bid this year. This year is Scott’s final in the governor’s mansion — his last chance to make an impact in statewide policies before voters head to the polls in November.
Nelson, who has served in office since 2001, said the decision could benefit his future rival politically — a move he called pure politics, and nothing more.
“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. But now, suddenly, Secretary Zinke announces plans to drill off Florida’s coast and four days later agrees to ‘take Florida off the table?’ I don’t believe it,” Nelson said. “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. We shouldn’t be playing politics with the future of Florida.”
Nelson’s comments confused some, since he has routinely opposed offshore drilling, the very issue the Trump administration sided with on Tuesday.
“Instead of celebrating the announcement as a win for Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson has made this about politics,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Katie Martin. “This move from the administration is what Floridians want, but for some reason Sen. Nelson appears he’d be happier if the decision was reversed.”
Other states have begun asking for exemptions from the offshore drilling plan as a result of Tuesday’s announcement, but no further announcements have been made.