Florida Gov. Rick Scott seems to have found the secret to getting the Trump administration to undo a stupid and dangerous policy: just ask. But it apparently helps that the person asking is a Republican contemplating a run for the U.S. Senate against a Democratic incumbent, and the change in policy spared him from having to run with an oil-stained albatross wrapped around his neck.
In furtherance of President Trump's misguided effort to ramp up domestic production of oil and gas, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced last week that nearly all federal waters off the U.S. coastline would be opened to drilling. Scott, a Trump friend whose state's economy is built on tourism, objected during a brief meeting with Zinke, and — wham! — Zinke dropped Florida from the drilling map. No policy review. No public comment. Just a pol asking a favor, and the Trump administration granting it. "I support the governor's position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," Zinke said in a statement.
It might surprise Zinke to learn that California has a beautiful and unique coast too — one that is the foundation of an $18-billion coastal tourism industry, according to a five-year-old federal study. The Oregon and Washington coastlines are also stark, beautiful and full of tourists. Virginia, North Carolina's Outer Banks, that little sliver of Georgia coast anchored by Savannah — all beautiful. The Jersey Shore may be more prosaic, but it's every bit as dependent on tourist dollars. In fact, even the bayous of Texas and Louisiana have their charms, and their tourism industries (which have been damaged by leaks, including the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon blowout).
So why not do the smart thing and rescind the proposal to open the federal waters to more drilling, and let the local non-oil economies chug along without fear of oil-covered birds, dead fisheries and tarry beaches? Because, in a hubristic and market-deaf drive to make the U.S. the dominant player in global energy while the rest of the world tries to shift to renewable sources, the Trump administration insists on doubling down on oil and gas production. Unless, apparently, a political friend needs a favor.
It's also worth noting that Trump's beloved Mar-a-Lago resort stands on Florida's Atlantic Coast, and a beachfront view dotted with offshore derricks isn't what the president's well-heeled club-goers expect for their $200,000 initiation fee. Is it a conflict of interest for the Trump administration to adopt policies that remove a potential risk to the president's real estate holdings? That was a rhetorical question.