North Carolina deserves the same consideration as Florida when it comes to offshore oil and gas drilling.
The Trump administration said Tuesday it will remove the Florida coast from its plan to open virtually all U.S. offshore waters to fossil fuel development.
"I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coast is heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said, according to a news release from Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office.
Florida's coast certainly is "heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver," but it is not unique in that.
So is North Carolina's coast, a point made by N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper last week:
“Offshore drilling represents a critical threat to our coastal economy. Protecting North Carolina families and businesses is my top priority, and we will pursue every option to prevent oil drilling near North Carolina’s beaches, coastal communities, and fishing waters.”
In his statement, Zinke noted:
"President Trump has directed me to rebuild our offshore oil and gas program in a manner that supports our national energy policy and also takes into consideration the local and state voice."
That voice, as represented by North Carolina's governor and the elected leaders of many coastal communities, says don't drill. The North Carolina voice also deserves to be heard in Washington.
The Florida governor thanked Zinke "for coming to Tallahassee today following my request for a meeting last week to hear our concerns about oil drilling off Florida’s coast. By removing Florida from consideration, we can now focus on how we can further protect our environment, including our proposal for record funding for the Everglades, our springs, our beaches and our state parks. I will never stop fighting for Florida’s environment and our pristine coastline.”
No governor should stop fighting for that.
What's significant is that, in accepting Scott's argument, Zinke and the Trump administration agree that offshore drilling poses a threat to the coastal environment and economy. So they can't continue to pretend otherwise when they're talking about North Carolina's coast. They've already conceded the point.
There is one important difference between Florida and North Carolina, but it has nothing to do with the environment or economy.
It's that Florida's governor is a Republican who may run for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson. Zinke's decision gives Scott a big boost.
N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper is a Democrat, whom the Trump administration has no interest in helping.
Yet North Carolina is a key state for Republicans, so they had better be careful. Tar Heel voters should feel injured and insulted if the Trump administration continues to pursue offshore oil and gas drilling here after taking Florida off the table.
North Carolina deserves the same protection as Florida.
Update: Gov. Cooper is making the same point, according to a news release from his office:
“The Trump Administration, through their decision on Florida, has admitted that offshore drilling is a threat to coastal economies and tourism,” Gov. Cooper said. “Offshore drilling holds the same risks for North Carolina as it does for Florida and North Carolina deserves the same exemption. As I said last summer, not off our coast.”