Like Florida, Maryland Wants To Be Exempt From Offshore Drilling
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
All right, the Trump administration surprised a lot of people last week when it excluded Florida from a plan to dramatically expand offshore drilling. And now other states are saying - hey, we'd love to be excluded as well. And they're getting a chance to make their case in a series of public meetings. NPR's Jeff Brady went to one of those meetings yesterday in Annapolis, Md.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: At the harbor in downtown Annapolis, it's cold. And there's little sign of the tourists and people heading out to fish that are common when the weather is warmer.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS SQUAWKING)
BRADY: But things are buzzing a few miles away at a hotel conference center. This is where the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is collecting comments on the Trump administration's plan to offer up just about all of the country's offshore areas to drillers. This is the normal process with information booths and laptops set up to type in comments. Last week, Florida went outside that process and got itself removed.
MARK BELTON: Well, that caught us a little bit by surprise, quite frankly, when we saw that Governor Scott in Florida had spoken to Secretary Zinke of the Department of the Interior.
BRADY: Mark Belton is Maryland's secretary of natural resources. He's here to deliver a letter from his boss, Republican Governor Larry Hogan, asking that Maryland also be removed. Belton says the big concern is for the state's economically important fishing and tourism industries.
BELTON: The accident that happened with Deepwater Horizon down in the Gulf of Mexico is a vivid example of what could happen here off the shore of the mid-Atlantic. And with that example in mind, we believe that it's just not the right thing to happen off our shores.
BRADY: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has reportedly spent this week meeting with coastal governors in the wake of the Florida announcement. Some environmentalists saw politics at play, claiming the evening tweets from Zinke and a meeting at the Tallahassee airport were designed to help Governor Rick Scott in an upcoming race for the U.S. Senate. What's clear is that announcing this decision with a tweet is unusual.
SIERRA WEAVER: I can't imagine how it wouldn't raise legal complications.
BRADY: Sierra Weaver is an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. For groups like hers that likely will challenge in court any plan that could expand offshore drilling, a big legal question is whether the administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously.
WEAVER: Were they reasonable, or did they just do something based on politics or whim? And a tweet at 6:30 at night after a 20-minute meeting at an airport certainly looks like the definition of arbitrariness.
BRADY: The oil industry also is not happy with Secretary Zinke's decision to exclude Florida. Companies have wanted to drill off the state's west coast in the Gulf of Mexico for years, says Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association.
RANDALL LUTHI: You already have infrastructure such as underwater pipes. You already have companies that might have drilling rigs and seismic equipment. So the eastern Gulf is the easiest and most logical area to move into.
BRADY: And Luthi advises his members not to give up on Florida yet. Both sides plan to turn out in force at a Florida hearing next month. A final plan to open more areas for offshore drilling likely won't be finished for another two years.
Jeff Brady, NPR News, Annapolis, Md.
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