Report: Florida Not 'Off the Table' for Oil Drilling

Earlier this month, the Trump administration said it had made a decision to exempt Florida from a new offshore oil drilling plan.

It turns out that may not be the case, if testimony from an Interior Department official is any indication.

At a House Natural Resources Committee hearing Friday morning, Walter Cruickshank, the Trump administration's director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, admitted during questioning that Florida is not "off the table" for offshore oil drilling.

The surprise admission came when Cruickshank was asked by a panelist to explain why Florida got a special "carve out" from the plan that is opening the continental shelf to new oil drilling.

Cruickshank took the panel by complete surprise when he responded, "We have no formal decision yet on what's in, or out, of the five-year program."

California congressman Jared Huffman interjected, "So there’s been no decision to exempt Florida?" 

Cruickshank replied, "The secretary’s statement stands for itself."

Just minutes after Cruickshank admitted there has been no formal action taken to take Florida off the table, Florida congressman Darren Soto asked him to explain and further clarify exactly what he meant by the secretary’s statement "stands on its own."

"By ‘stand on its own’ … it’s not an official action, is that what you mean?” Soto asked.  

"It is not a formal action, no," the official admitted.

Florida U.S. Senator Bill Nelson was livid when he heard the news.

"This confirms what we all suspected: there is no deal to protect Florida from drilling," he said, in a statement. "What we saw last week was just political theater, and the people of Florida should be outraged. Drilling off of Florida’s coast is a real threat to our state and we should all be working together to protect our coasts - not playing politics with an issue that’s so important to our future." 

Nelson had said from the outset that he suspected the announcement, made by the Interior Secretary following a 20-minute meeting with Gov. Rick Scott, was nothing more than a “political stunt” and not an announcement of official policy. 

He said that the revelations Friday only confirmed that.

Nelson's office said that, earlier in the month, the senator sent the Interior Secretary a letter requesting specific details on any changes made to the agency’s five-year drilling plan. 

The Interior Secretary has not yet responded to that request, according to the senator's office.

Nelson's office says that the Interior's admission Friday that, despite the Secretary's announcement, Florida is still on the table for new offshore drilling comes just days after Interior held its first public meeting on the plan. 

The maps Interior officials used during that meeting reportedly showed the waters off of Florida were still open to drilling.

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