Editorial: Just what is the drill here?

Other states deserve the same waiver from offshore drilling that Florida got

FILE/associated Press In this May 21, 2015 file photo, a worker removes oil from the sand at Refugio State Beach in the Santa Barbara Channel, north of Goleta, Calif., as cleanup work continued one month after the May 19 oil spill north of Santa Barbara. The Trump administration recently moved to vastly expand offshore drilling from the Atlantic to the Arctic oceans with a plan that would open up federal waters off the California coast for the first time in more than three decades.

Those of us who lived through Sept. 11, 2001 will never forget the cloud of horror, sadness and dread that drifted over our lives for weeks and months afterward.

 

It was a nearly indescribable sense of unease that sat in the pit of one’s stomach as it fermented anxiety day in and day out.

For many of us, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana spawned a similar summer-long anxiety. Every day after the April 20, 2010 explosion at the Gulf of Mexico rig — until it was capped July 15, and then declared sealed that September — the thought of oil spewing into the gulf waters and onto area beaches formed a black, gooey cloud in our psyches.

It was the 9-11 of the sea, the Chernobyl of offshore drilling, the worst marine oil spill in history. It was, in a word, awful. And we never want to go there again.

The only way to come close to ensuring we don’t go there again is not to open up more of our fragile, sensitive coastlines to offshore drilling.

While the Trump administration announced Jan. 4 it would open up most coastal waters to offshore oil and gas exploration, this newspaper is adamantly, unalterably, absolutely and altogether opposed to it, in the strongest terms possible.

And we are in good company: Governors and other officials of coastal states from Florida to Oregon — with the exception of those in Alaska and Maine — are likewise squarely against increased offshore drilling.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott quickly sought — and received — a waiver from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, meaning the Sunshine State has opted out of offshore drilling. Understandably. And just like that.

It made officials in other states wonder why they, too, couldn’t opt out just as easily. We certainly hope Georgia and South Carolina are able to — but, in truth, we want the entire plan scrapped.

Just as Florida, America’s other coastal states depend heavily on tourism, fishing and ocean-related industries. The risk to them, to the environment, and to the psyche is just too great, and far overshadows any energy industry gain to be had by drilling off our precious beaches and cliffs.

Moreover, the singular granting of a waiver to just one state — with but a conversation among state and federal officials — would be impossible to defend in a court of law.

“It seems incredibly hard to justify or explain that this is anything other than arbitrary or capricious,” Reuters quoted Sierra Weaver, a lawyer for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“Offshore drilling decisions in the United States are, by law, supposed to be guided by science, public input, and a careful balancing of environmental and energy needs,” adds Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the liberal Center for American Progress and former deputy chief of staff under Obama’s Interior Department.

If political considerations matter — as Florida’s waiver shows they do — then waivers should quickly be forthcoming up and down America’s coastlines.

Indeed, the Miami Herald reports that Florida Gov. Scott was the last governor to object to the drilling plan — yet was first to win his state an exemption from it, while the rest of the states are still threatened by drilling. How does that happen?

Some — including Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson — suspect the Trump administration’s exempting the state from offshore drilling is a way to shore up Gov. Scott’s political bona fides in advance of an expected Senate run against Nelson.

“It’s surprising that it was as simple as Gov. Scott asking to be taken out of the drilling plan when really most of the other coastal governors have done the same, and they’re not out of the drilling plan,” said Jennifer Rubiello, director of Environment Florida, told the Herald.

Whatever the case is, other states deserve the same consideration. Period.

Sec. Zinke’s claim that “Florida is unique and that its coasts are are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver” is demonstrably false. While Florida’ beaches are some of the best not just in the country but in the world, neither their beauty nor the state’s reliance on them for tourism dollars is unique.

Ask South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, or North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — all of whom want waivers. Notably, McMaster was one of Mr. Trump’s earliest supporters. Christie was one of Trump’s earliest primary rivals to endorse him.

“I am opposed to offshore drilling off South Carolina’s shore, I’m opposed to seismic testing off South Carolina’s shore,” McMaster has said. “Our tourism industry and glorious natural resources are beyond compare in the United States, they are a source of enormous economic growth and prosperity and we cannot take a chance with those resources, those industries, and that economy.”

“If we can exempt Florida, based on — as Sec. Zinke put it — ‘an unusually high degree of tourism reliance,’” says Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., “well, then, the same certainly ought to exist for South Carolina.”

Coastal tourism may not be the 800-pound gorilla in Georgia that it is in South Carolina, but it’s huge.

Not to mention our coastal environment, which includes precious and fragile barrier islands.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s office says he “has concerns about opening up Georgia’s pristine coastline and will convey those concerns to the congressional delegation.”

We would respectfully urge Gov. Deal to be more definitive — by flat opposing the drilling, and vociferously.

There is no way this can stand if we all rise up against it.

 

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