California wants an exemption. So does Oregon, Washington, New York and New Jersey. Meanwhile, South Carolina is still waiting on an answer.
We’re not sure what Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke thought would happen when he decided to exempt Florida – and, by extension, the president’s prized Mar-a-Lago resort – from the ugliness of his new offshore drilling policy, but he should’ve known that it would ignite a political firestorm.
On Thursday, California’s senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, joined more than a dozen of their Democratic colleagues in sending Zinke a sharply worded letter, demanding the Trump administration give their states the same deal red-state Florida got.
“We urge you to honor the commitment of this Administration by listening to the local and state voices that we represent,” they wrote, “and to respect their overwhelming opposition to oil and gas drilling off our coasts.”
The Trump administration should listen to them. Chances are, California will have to enlist some Republicans intermediaries to persuade Zinke. Smart California Republicans dating to the 1980s when Pete Wilson was a U.S. senator have opposed offshore drilling.
Doug Ose, a Republican running for California governor and a Trump ally, ought to take a stand. So should Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen and San Diego businessman John Cox, who also want to be governor.
California’s 14 congressional Republicans should step up as well, although inexplicably Rep. Mimi Walters of Orange County was among the 155 House members who signed onto a letter last year urging Zinke to allow drilling.
The Trump administration, under a plan Zinke announced this month, seeks to open up 90 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf to private drilling leases. At least 22 states would be affected along the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans, plus the Gulf of Mexico. In California, six leases would be offered.
Such a move is a reversal of decades of federal policy, and nothing short of a gift to oil and gas companies. Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to fight the new policy, memories of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill no doubt fresh in his mind. But it was the head-scratcher of a statement that Zinke put out on Tuesday that got other governors – and now senators – to follow his lead.
In a tweet, Zinke described how he had met with Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott – “a straightforward leader” who can be “trusted” – and, as such, had decided to spare that state’s coastline, which he called “unique” and “heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”
The uproar from other coastal states was immediate. While Florida has lovely beaches, the state is hardly “unique” in that.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat running for governor, pointed out on Twitter that Florida had 113 million visitors in 2016, but California had 269 million. “Using this logic, CA’s coasts should be declared free of offshore drilling as well. Or do blue states not get exemptions, @SecretaryZinke?” he asked.
It’s a good question – one that, so far, no one in the Trump administration has been willing to answer. Meanwhile, the congressional delegations from every New England coastal state have signed onto a bill that would ban drilling off their stretch of the Atlantic. So far, California Republicans are missing in action.
Partisan politics aside, no Californian should want to see our coastline put at risk.