The Trump administration has handed Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) a major political win as Republicans try to entice him to run for the Senate, promising to spare his state from its plan to massively expand offshore drilling.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke flew to Tallahassee to meet with Scott Tuesday night and pledged to exempt Florida from his plans to open nearly all coastal areas in the U.S. to offshore drilling, while heaping praise on the governor for his work.
Republicans from Trump on down have spent more than a year pushing Scott, a self-funding billionaire and close Trump ally, to run against Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). The move was seen by many as a naked political ploy — a way to boost Scott’s standing in the state, where offshore drilling is deeply unpopular, while pushing ahead on the plan in states like California where there are fewer local Republicans to worry about helping.
Zinke called Scott a “straightforward leader that can be trusted” in his statement announcing the decision, giving Scott all the credit for the reversal.
“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” he said. “As a result of discussion with [Scott] and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”
The move came after Scott came out blasting the plan when Zinke announced it last week, his first major break with the Trump administration.
That’s a departure for Scott. He supported more offshore drilling in his first gubernatorial run in 2010, though the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that damaged parts of Florida’s gulf coast made the politics even worse for him on that issue.
Democrats and environmental groups groused at how the decision came about.
“Nobody’s fooled by this publicity stunt. Florida is at risk for offshore drilling because the Trump administration chose to put it at risk. If Secretary Zinke has really turned over a new leaf and decided to listen to local voices, he should listen to the outpouring of opposition coming from communities, businesses, and elected officials from both parties up and down our coasts and promptly withdraw his radical offshore drilling plan,” League of Conservation Voters Deputy Legislative Director Alex Taurel said in a Tuesday night statement.
“Rick Scott has and always will be a self-serving con-man. It’s unfortunate that he and his friend President Trump would manufacture a crisis to try and help his political ambitions, but in doing so they’ve shone a bright spotlight on Scott’s long record of backing oil drilling off Florida’s shores and beaches,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David Bergstein said.
The fix was always in to help Scott, according to Politico, which reported that Zinke had told people when he first announced the plan last week that he planned to roll back the plan to open up Florida’s coasts in order to boost Scott politically.
Zinke’s plans to open up vast stretches of the U.S. coastline for oil drilling threaten to hurt Republicans in those areas, and could hurt the GOP’s chances of holding House seats up and down both coasts in 2018, as TPM has previously reported. But Florida was one of the two biggest problem areas for Republicans because of the plan, along with California — and the machinations seem intended to help, not hurt Scott, giving him a chance to break with the administration before scoring a political victory.
It’ll be interesting to see whether California House Republicans facing tough reelection races get the same treatment treatment from Zinke.