After Reprieve for Florida, Washington State GOPs Seek Exclusion from Offshore Drilling Plans

The oil drilling rig Polar Pioneer is towed toward a dock May 14, 2015, in Elliott Bay in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

WASHINGTON — Washington state Republicans are hoping that they can secure the same sort of drilling reprieve that Florida GOPs got thanks to Gov. Rick Scott’s influence with the Trump administration.

After Florida Republicans protested the administration’s plan to open nearly all coastal waters to drilling, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke vowed last week that their state would be “off the table” in the new plans going forward.

Zinke had earlier announced that the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024, which would flip the current status of being 94 percent off-limits to more than 90 percent available for drilling, would be “the right balance to protect our coasts and people while still powering America and achieving American energy dominance.”

Zinke credited Scott with pressuring the administration to change course on Florida offshore drilling.

Other Republican coastal governors have expressed opposition to the plan as well, including South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Zinke said Florida was “obviously unique” when it comes to drilling.

On Thursday, Reps. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) wrote to Zinke with “deep concern” about drilling off the Pacific Northwest coast.

“There have been no new offshore drilling leases in our region for over 30 years and we urge you to keep Washington’s coastline free from new offshore drilling,” they wrote. “…Each year, healthy ocean economies along Washington’s Pacific Coast generate around $11.9 billion in gross domestic product (GDP) to the state and support more than 125,000 jobs. The tourism and recreation sector alone contributes 74,000 jobs — providing over $1.6 billion in wages — and generates more than $3.7 billion to the state’s GDP. New offshore development poses a significant threat to these thriving coastal businesses.”

“While we support the Administration’s vision of making the United States energy independent, we do not believe new offshore drilling and development off the Pacific coast of Washington is the answer,” Reichert and Herrera Beutler added, asking that “just as you did with Florida” their state should also be removed from drilling plans.

Reichert led a bipartisan letter to Zinke in May asking that the administration maintain the status quo on regions currently off-limits to drilling, citing in part the 1969 Santa Barbara blowout that coated 35 miles of shoreline in oil and killed 3,700 seabirds along with an untold number of fish and marine mammals.

Reichert said Thursday he was “hopeful the administration will hear this final plea to stop these efforts for new offshore drilling off the Pacific Coast of Washington.”

Herrera Beutler noted that citizens of Washington state “have never indicated any desire to have oil and gas activity off their coast.”

“Energy independence is a worthy goal, but the plan to get there should not include Washington’s coast… Washington should not be included in the final proposal to increase energy exploration,” she said.