President Donald Trump's decision Tuesday to reverse course and reinstate the ban on oil and natural gas drilling off Florida's coasts was as correct as it was welcome.
Trump last week outlined a plan to open considerably more offshore areas to energy exploration. In essence, between 2019 and 2024 Big Oil would be free to pursue drilling licenses in 47 areas ringing the country from the Arctic Circle to the Florida Straits to the northern Atlantic Ocean.
No one should have been surprised. As a candidate, Trump plainly advocated greater mining of fossil fuels to make America more independent of foreign energy sources and to create jobs.
Nor should we have been surprised by the outcry from many members of Congress, governors and other assorted pols, Republican and Democrat alike, to include Florida Gov. Rick Scott. In a statement last week, Scott said he opposed the Trump administration's plan and added his "top priority" was to protect Florida's natural resources — which, considering Scott's environmental record over seven years in office, we can take with a sizable grain of salt.
Nonetheless, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters that the White House granted Florida's exclusion because of Scott's lobbying.
Thus, governors of other coastal states are understandably upset, and that includes Republicans who might otherwise ally with Trump, such as Chris Christie of New Jersey, Larry Hogan of Maryland and Henry McMaster of South Carolina.
If there was a surprise last week, it was that the president initially chose not to exclude Florida, his part-time home. Perhaps Trump did not want to show favoritism, or couldn't legally exclude Florida. Now that he has set Florida apart, however, we can expect the governors of most, if not all, of America's coastal states to petition Zinke for a similar exemption — as many already are voicing — or to challenge the policy in court.
On its face, the about-face on Florida would seem to bolster those states' challenges to either grant exemptions or put Florida back in the drilling mix.
Yet Zinke has a point about Florida's beaches.
Under Scott, Florida is riding a tidal wave of tourism, with, once the 2017 numbers are tallied, seven consecutive years of record-breaking growth. That includes more than 100 million visitors in each of the last three years, and despite the recent hurricanes.
Washington state, or Virginia to play in the surf the way they do in Florida.
But perhaps the most intriguing reaction to Zinke's shift came from those like Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. They accuse the Trump administration of "playing politics" with oil drilling.
"I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott who has wanted to drill off Florida's coast his entire career. We shouldn't be playing politics with the future of FL," Nelson tweeted, suggesting the president reconsidered his position to help Scott firm up his environmental credentials for a U.S. Senate bid.
But we should recognize that Floridians got the desired outcome: no drilling.
We would encourage Sen. Nelson to realize that, and consider the effect for the whole state, and not simply the impact on the continuation of his political career. Drilling alone won't decide the next election.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD