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Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform on fire.
Wikipedia / US Coast Guard
Environment

Florida Receives Exemption From Offshore Drilling. Now Other States Want in.

When the Trump administration announced that it was opening “nearly all” offshore waters to drilling, there was an uproar from nearly all affected states.

Just as soon as the policy was announced, however, it’s beginning to unravel, according to the New York Times.

That’s because the Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke said that he would protect Florida’s waters from offshore drilling after meeting with the state’s governor, Rick Scott.

Take Action: Stand Up for the Arctic

But his rationale for privileging Florida could be applied to any of the affected states, according to the Times.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke said in a statement. “As a result of discussion with Governor (Rick) Scott and his leadership, I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platform.”

These words have already been pounced upon by various states demanding similar exemptions, because, after all, many coastal states depend on tourism as an economic driver. Ultimately, Zinke’s phrasing could open the department up to a slew of lawsuits and imperil efforts to drill in coastal waters, the Times notes.

The attorney general of California had this to say after Zinke’s announcement:

And New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo also weighed in:

“Such a quick reversal begs the question: will the Trump administration give equal consideration to all the other coastal Governors from both parties who overwhelmingly reject this radical offshore drilling plan,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana.  

For all of the states affected by the Trump administration’s proposal, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico looms large, according to Alexandra Adams, a senior advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Ocean Program.

Read More: Experts Say Arctic Drilling Makes Little Sense. So Why Is It Being Pushed?

The largest oil spill in US history, Deepwater Horizon contaminated more than 1,300 miles of coastline, greatly harmed animal and plant populations, and caused billions of dollars in clean-up costs and economic losses, according to NRDC.  

After that oil spill, the Obama administration enacted tougher offshore regulations and temporarily shielded 94% of offshore waters from drilling, according to Reuters.  

The consequences of re-opening these waters and granting new offshore drilling leases would extend far beyond the Trump administration, making this an issue of whether or not states control their environmental futures, Adams said.

“The thing about selling these leases is you lock yourself into decades of carbon pollution,” she said. “Once you sink that well and you have operations moving, that oil is going to be extracted and burned and if you are trying to keep from heading down a path towards climate disasters, you don’t want to lock in all that carbon pollution.”

Zinke, for his part, seems to understand that more reversals could be in store.

“Our tactic was open everything up, then meet with the governors, meet with the stakeholders so that when we shaped it, it was right,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday. “The president made it very clear that local voices count.”

Read More: Norway Court Greenlights Arctic Drilling in Blow to Environmentalists

A 60-day public comment period was set in motion once the initial announcement was made and, according to Adams of the NRDC, citizens, communities, and lawmakers can make their voices known if they want coastal waters to be protected.

“None of these states should be a sacrifice zone,” she said. “We shouldn’t be pitting them against each other.”

“All of these coasts should be protected for the benefits of all communities,” she added.

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