On oil drilling, Scott's environmental epiphany is welcome

Posted January 10, 2018 9:36 p.m. EST

Everybody calm down. Nothing to fret about. After all Gov. Rick Scott, the Jacques Cousteau of Tallahassee, answered the call to action to protect the state's precious environment against the federal government's ill-considered plan to risk turning Florida's coastline into the Exxon Valdez meets Deepwater Horizon.

The Trump administration announced plans last week to grant more drilling leases in areas along both coastlines. And would you like a side order of sludge to go with that red snapper? Yummers.

It is axiomatic that any effort to finagle with Social Security is regarded as the "third rail" of political life. Touch it, and you are dead.

It might also be said that for Florida, any cockamamie proposal to enhance the possibility of an oil spill that could be catastrophic to commercial fishing and tourism is also tantamount to a self-inflicted mortal wound. That is particularly true if you have visions of becoming a senator dancing around your motherboard.

That didn't stop Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke from announcing plans to issue 47 new oil and gas drilling leases, including 12 leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Two of the new leases were to be in areas that are now off-limits. If all had gone according to draconian plan, after 2022 a majority of the gulf's eastern coast would have been ripe for drilling.

One would think after the disastrous BP oil spill back in 2010, the idea of expanding drilling in the Gulf of Mexico would give paper-pushing ideologues pause. But that would require actual thinking.

Historically, Republican and Democratic Florida governors have opposed expanding oil and gas drilling in the gulf and off the state's east coast. That's because a Florida governor wants to continue being a Florida governor, or perhaps move up to the U.S. Senate. Threatening the state's economic interests with visions of blackened beaches and oil-stained wildlife is hardly a winning campaign theme.

It is right about here Scott discovered he had a pulse. Before Zinke suggested the nation needed more drilling rigs in our waters, maybe he should have consulted with the very governors and other elected representatives whose states might be impacted by increased oil and gas exploration.

Zinke is getting an earful now. The Republican and Democratic governors of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington all have essentially communicated a message to Zinke along the lines of, "Are you nuts?!?!"

Scott channeled his inner Al Gore in voicing his opposition, recognizing the prospect of oil derricks off the Florida coast would hardly boost his prospects against Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, a longtime and vocal critic of expanded drilling. But Nelson's opinion of expanded drilling didn't matter. He's a Democrat. At the Interior Department, who cares what Florida's senior senator thinks?

Epiphanies are always welcome. So Scott announced he planned to meet with Zinke to express his grave concerns over the enhanced drilling scheme.

After a mere 20-minute tete-a-tete at the Tallahassee airport, Scott and Zinke emerged to proclaim never mind about that silly idea to expand oil and gas drilling off Florida's idyllic coast. That's good. Still, Scott's conversion to a champion of the environment comes after years of regarding environmental issues as a rancid plate of cold peas. Ah, but this is an election year.

Remember that glorious moment when the climate change-doubting governor reluctantly agreed to meet with a gathering of scientists? He looked like he was stuck in detention hall, then sat silently through the presentation without asking a single question.

This is not a particularly curious chap. But he is an ambitious one.

Imagine the meeting between Scott and Zinke.

Scott: "Hey, listen, I'm running for the U.S. Senate. I can't have a grease-slicked coastline that looks like Kid Rock's hair."

Zinke: "Drilling? What drilling? Wherever did you hear that?"

Nelson fumed the Scott/Zinke deal was a political stunt. Of course it was. But you can't deny it worked.

If Zinke can be flipped that fast on oil drilling, all those other governors fearing their coastlines will be at risk ought to be looking for their own Rick Scott air-kiss deal with the Interior Department.

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