By MATTHEW DALY
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Trump administration may have violated federal law by exempting Florida from a national plan to expand offshore drilling, a Democratic senator charged Thursday.
Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington state said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to give Florida a last-minute exemption while ignoring at least 10 other states that made similar requests may violate requirements of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which governs drilling in U.S. coastal waters.
Zinke’s action is especially outrageous because Florida – unlike California, Washington and other states – did not expressly oppose the drilling proposal in written comments submitted to the Interior Department, Cantwell said.
While Florida Gov. Rick Scott voiced opposition soon after the plan’s Jan. 4 release, a letter submitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection last year did not oppose the drilling plan or ask for Florida to be exempted.
Instead, the letter warned about the effects of oil and gas activities on the environment and urged that “long-term protection of Florida’s sensitive coastal and marine resources should be of paramount concern” in developing a drilling plan.
By contrast, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington told Interior they “strongly oppose any new leasing” off their coasts and asked to be removed from the plan.
By exempting Florida but not other states, Zinke showed he is “more concerned with politics than proper process when it comes to making key decisions that affect our coastal communities,” said Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, called Zinke’s action troubling and said singling out one state for exemption “may well violate federal law.”
A spokeswoman for Zinke declined immediate comment Thursday.
Zinke said Tuesday in announcing the exemption for Florida that Scott, a fellow Republican who has met with both Zinke and President Donald Trump in recent weeks, is “a straightforward leader that can be trusted.”
Zinke added that he supports Scott’s position that “Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver. As a result of discussion with Governor Scott and his leadership, I am…