Did Zinke Exempt Florida from Offshore Drilling to Help GOP? Watchdog Sues to Find Out

American Oversight seeks drilling-related emails, analyses for Florida, 13 other coastal states

American Oversight today sued the Department of the Interior (DOI) to shed light on its decision to exempt Florida from its offshore drilling plan. American Oversight’s suit seeks emails and other records related to offshore drilling in 14 coastal states including Florida.

“DOI’s decision to keep offshore drilling out of Florida, a state whose Republican governor is running for a U.S. Senate seat, looks like more than a coincidence,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “Given the detrimental effect that offshore drilling can have on states’ environments and economies, the public deserves to know how DOI is making drilling-related decisions. We need to find out if Secretary Zinke is conducting agency business with an eye to boosting Republicans’ electoral chances.”

In early January, President Trump announced that he would open up almost all U.S. coastal waters to offshore drilling, prompting widespread backlash. Less than a week later, at a seemingly impromptu press conference at the Tallahassee airport, Zinke and Govenor Rick Scott announced that Florida would be “off the table” for offshore drilling.

Although the announcement initially appeared to be a last-minute result of Scott’s negotiations with DOI, news reports indicate that Zinke and Scott’s offices planned and coordinated the decision and joint announcement. Government officials in states including California and New York decried the decision, asking why Florida deserved an exemption but other coastal states did not.

American Oversight’s lawsuit comes after DOI failed to provide records in response to two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The first FOIA request targeted communications between DOI officials and Florida politicians and lobbying groups, including Scott, Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Ocean Industries Association, and the American Energy Alliance.

The second FOIA request sought DOI communications with officials in the thirteen coastal states in the contiguous United States besides Florida with gubernatorial elections in 2018, including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Texas. The request also sought DOI analyses related to offshore drilling in those states.