Democrats Demand a Hearing on Secretary Zinke’s Inconsistent Statements on Offshore Drilling Plan

Washington, D.C. – In response to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s contradictory statements on the development of the offshore oil and gas leasing program, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Ranking Member Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) sent a letter to Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) today requesting a full committee hearing on the development of the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) offshore leasing plan. Politico broke a story this week stating that Florida Governor Rick Scott’s (R) office was in close contact with high-ranking political officials at DOI in the months leading up to the meeting between the Governor and Secretary Zinke. The available information strongly suggests that the meeting and decision to remove Florida from the offshore leasing program was driven by political considerations related to the Governor’s potential race for the U.S. Senate seat.

The letter outlines the Trump administration’s questionable actions around the development of the 5-year program and Democrats efforts to hold DOI officials accountable. The following is a timeline of 2018 events:

  • Jan. 4 – The administration released its five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing along the entire Atlantic and Pacific coasts, a plan that would weaken offshore drilling environmental and safety standards, and put over 90 percent of our coasts in danger of drilling.
  • Jan. 9 – After a brief meeting with Gov. Scott in the Tallahassee airport, Secretary Zinke tweeted that Florida’s coast was off the table for offshore oil and gas drilling.
  • Jan. 10 – The first Committee markup of the year was on a Republican bill – the Streamlining Environmental Approvals or SEA Act (H.R. 3133) – that would make it easier for oil and gas companies to expedite industrial projects in our oceans.
  • Jan. 19 – Walter Cruickshank, acting director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), contradicted Secretary Zinke’s tweet by saying Florida’s coastal waters had not been excluded.
  • Jan. 25 – As a follow-up to Cruickshank’s statement about Florida’s waters, the Energy and Mineral Resources subcommittee formally requested more information by February 5. As of today, no documents have been provided.
  • Jan. 19 – Reps. Grijalva and Lowenthal sent a letter to Secretary Zinke questioning the Department’s plan to rewrite two critical offshore oil and gas safety rules.
  • Jan. 23 – CNN Politics reported that Secretary Zinke defended his decision to exempt Florida on January 21, stating the “state’s coastline is unique.”
  • Jan. 24 –  Reps. Grijalva, Lowenthal and McEachin sent a letter to Secretary Zinke requesting a full committee oversight hearing on the development of the 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program.
  • March 13 –  Secretary Zinke told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that, “Florida is still in the process” for offshore oil and gas drilling.
  • March 15 – A few days later, at the Natural Resources Committee budget hearing Secretary Zinke said, “Florida did not get an exemption,” and, “had I left Florida off, it would have been arbitrary and capricious,” but also that he stands by his commitment to “no new oil and gas platforms off the coast of Florida.”
  • March 27Politico released a story stating that Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office was in close contact with high-ranking political officials about removing Florida from the offshore leasing program.

The Democratic Members are demanding more information about how the first draft of the 5-year program was put together and what led to the meeting between the Governor and the Secretary at the Tallahassee airport. The letter states in part:

With the tremendous implications that a new 5-year program will have for the coasts of states on the both the East and West Coasts, as well as Alaska, this is a matter that demands urgent Natural Resources Committee oversight. We reiterate our request for a full committee hearing on this matter, and also ask that you consider subpoenaing relevant documents from the Interior Department if they are not provided by the time Congress returns to session in April.

The complete letter can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/2GVuVJ3

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Diane Padilla

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