The Trump administration’s move to exempt waters off Florida from its massive new offshore drilling plans just happens to mesh nicely with electoral politics.
The scenario began to unfold last week.
Erasing previous restrictions, Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, boasted of “the largest number of lease sales ever proposed” through drilling in most continental shelf waters.
These new Trump policies would affect the arctic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic.
But suddenly, on Tuesday at Tallahassee’s airport, Zinke announced that drilling off the Florida coast was “off the table” even as the rest of the plan remains intact.
“As a result of discussions with Governor Rick Scott,” Zinke said, “I am removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”
Scott, a Republican, is in his last full year of office under the state’s term-limits law. For nearly a year, Trump has been urging Scott to challenge Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson next fall.
From the airport, Zinke, a former congressman and state senator from Montana, issued a statement that — who knows — could be remastered one day soon into a campaign commercial.
“I have witnessed Governor Scott’s leadership through hurricane season and am working closely with him on Everglades restoration,” Zinke said. “He is a straightforward leader that can be trusted.”
This is an anxious moment for the Senate’s GOP majority, which prevails by only one seat after Roy Moore lost to Doug Jones in Alabama. Shortly before that, Trump told an audience: “The future of this country cannot afford to lose the seat.”
Ousting Nelson would win back a seat for the GOP.
The politics of oil leases also could affect the president’s standing in Florida — where Trump has political as well as economic interests such as his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.
Nearly eight years ago, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off the Louisiana coast, and the record oil spill that resulted also affected Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.
Floridians don’t want more of that. Some found additional cause to worry after the administration rewrote certain safety rules it had deemed too burdensome to the industry. The initial rules followed the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Also, operatives in Washington all know that in November 2016, Florida became one of a few close key states that gave Trump his Electoral College victory. Sunshine State voters gave him 48.6 percent versus 47.4 for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
How other governors’ appeals for changes in the new drilling plan will be treated remains to be seen. For the moment, the administration sends a very loud message that Florida is worth special consideration.