The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Frustrated governors still waiting for offshore drilling meeting with Trump administration

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is greeted in the Senate chambers on the opening day of the current legislative session in Tallahassee. (Hali Tauxe/Tallahassee Democrat/AP)

They are bridesmaids, not brides. They could use a hug, or at least a handshake.

Governors of states along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts desperately want the Trump administration to whisper the same magic words to them that it whispered to Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who learned from Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke that the Sunshine State was being dropped from the president’s proposal to open 90 percent of the outer continental shelf to oil drilling.

But they’re still waiting, Republicans and Democrats alike. More than two weeks after Zinke announced the plan, then met with Scott in Tallahassee and gifted him with a prized exemption four days later, other governors opposed to drilling have yet to get a similar face-to-face audience with the secretary.

That Jan. 9 meeting has triggered feelings of betrayal, charges of favoritism and accusations of a political power move. Scott, a pro-Trump politician who long favored drilling until a recent reversal, is contemplating a run for the seat of Florida’s most outspoken and vehement drilling opponent, Sen. Bill Nelson (D). Florida is also home to the opulent Mar-a-Lago golf club on the Atlantic coast in Palm Beach that President Trump calls his winter White House.

Zinke heard the angry demands for equal time and tried to explain. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, he said he immediately responded to Scott because the two of them got along well in the fall when he was in Florida helping the state prepare for Hurricane Irma, as well as because the state’s entire congressional delegation is adamantly opposed to drilling.

“Quite frankly, Gov. Scott called me, and he expressed in writing the desire to have a meeting,” Zinke said. “That was the first in what I believe will be a series of conversations. … I will talk, no doubt, with every governor.”

Five governors of Atlantic and Pacific coast states who responded to emails from The Post said they’re wondering when those meetings will happen. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) all said they spoke on the phone with Zinke after learning of his meeting with Scott — but got no meeting of their own put on the calendar.

“I told him the concerns of Washingtonians and West Coast residents deserve be treated with the same consideration and deliberation as those in Florida,” Inslee said in a statement. “Secretary Zinke did not provide that commitment, unfortunately. But this fight is far from over.”

Kate Brown and Zinke spoke on the phone for 28 minutes, with the governor asking “for the same consideration for Oregon’s ‘people’s coast’ as was given Florida,” according to a statement from the governor’s office. Zinke agreed with concerns about the economic risks of drilling off Oregon, given its rich fisheries, and said he would visit the state as part of a process to consider exempting it, the statement said.

And during Jerry Brown’s conversation with the secretary, the governor reminded Zinke of a decades-old agreement between California and the federal government that followed oil spills, including one that devastated the Santa Barbara coast in 1969. A statement noted that Brown said coastal drilling would contradict the state’s efforts to wean itself off dependence on fossil fuels and fight climate change.

“The governor invited Secretary Zinke to come to California to continue this constructive conversation in the weeks ahead,” the statement said.

At least one Atlantic coast governor, Democrat Roy Cooper of North Carolina, was troubled by Zinke’s statement that Florida deserved special consideration because of its beach tourism. A tweet by Zinke about the sway of Florida stakeholders — “Local voices matter” — also caused annoyance.

North Carolina’s coast is actually longer than Florida’s Atlantic coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and stakeholders in the Tar Heel State are just as opposed to drilling. Like Floridians, they’ve made a case for how a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon spill that poured oil into the Gulf of Mexico for months could ruin state revenue.

A spokesman said Cooper wants the Interior Department to consider some additional facts: Beach tourism in the state generates $3 billion a year in visitor spending, $300 million in taxes from tourism and 30,000 jobs.

If they do meet, Cooper plans to show Zinke a fact sheet that says a shoreline developed for drilling is an economic risk with no reward. The sheet quotes Western Carolina University professor Rob Young, who studied the issue: “It was pretty clear there weren’t going to be a lot of economic benefits for North Carolina, particularly for drilling in federal waters.”

Virginia, whose Atlantic coast is only 26 miles shorter that Florida’s, could make a similar case. Scheduling a meeting with the secretary is on newly inaugurated Gov. Ralph Northam’s to-do list, his administration said. As governor-elect, Northam (D) condemned the drilling proposal.

But not every Atlantic coast governor has. Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is open to all possibilities. “Gov. LePage generally supports efforts to make good use of our indigenous resources and improve the United States’ energy independence and security,” his spokeswoman, Julie Rabinowitz, said in an email.  “The governor believes in a balanced approach that places a priority on protecting our environment and traditional industries but that does not close the door on jobs and lower energy costs for Maine people.”

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker (I) is a wholehearted supporter of drilling in a state that relies on royalties to fund many state programs. “The Department of Interior’s draft five-year offshore leasing plan is an important step toward allowing Alaskans to responsibly develop our natural resources as we see fit,” Walker said minutes after the proposal was announced.

New Jersey’s newly inaugurated governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, did not respond to emails. Nor did his counterparts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Delaware, South Carolina and Georgia. But of those, only Georgia’s Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has not voiced opposition to drilling.

Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) of Rhode Island, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) of Massachusetts and Gov. Chris Sununu (R) of New Hampshire have all called on Zinke to exempt their states from the proposal. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is also strongly opposed and has directed his attorney general to look into every option available to the state to block drilling off its shores.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) dispatched a terse letter to the Interior Department criticizing the expansion and demanding a meeting. “To the extent that states are exempted from consideration, New York should also be exempted,” the letter said.

“Offshore drilling poses an unacceptable threat to New York’s ocean resources, to our economy and to the future of our children,” the letter said. “Long Island and the New York Harbor are home to 11.4 million people, with 60 percent of our state’s population living along nearly 2,000 miles of tidal coastline.”

So far, a spokesman for Cuomo said, no response.

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