vision 2020

Trump May Freak Out Florida With Green Light for Offshore Drilling

Trump with leading Florida elected officials, who trust him not to do anything stupid. Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/REX/Shutterstock

As a generally (and consistently) unpopular president, Donald Trump often says and does things that offend public opinion. Usually, however, he does so with a political strategy in mind, such as keeping his culture-war–crazy base fully energized.

On occasion, though, a combination of Trumpian impulses seems to carry him into positions that just don’t make sense politically. It’s possible that his mania for oil and gas production, his deep investment in economic growth regardless of the environmental consequences, and his love for riling up liberals could convince him to do something that will significantly complicate his 2020 reelection bid, as Politico explains:

The Trump administration is considering auctioning off Florida’s coastal waters for oil and gas drilling — and Republicans are warning it could cost the president dearly in Florida in the 2020 election.

An industry lobbying offensive has put it on the cusp of achieving its holy grail: access to the resource-rich eastern Gulf of Mexico. The idea is so politically toxic in Florida that past presidents haven’t even entertained it. But behind the scenes, oil and gas interests are appealing to Trump’s desire to turbocharge U.S. energy production, including his past openness to drilling off the Florida coast.

You may recall that early last year, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke very publicly assured Florida governor Rick Scott, then entering a tough Senate race he ultimately won by an eyelash, that the Sunshine State would be exempt from any plan to auction off offshore drilling licenses. Now Politico tells us the president himself was annoyed by Zinke’s action, and could reverse it assuming (as is likely the case) industry-chummy Interior staff recommend that course of action. Nothing is likely to happen until Senate confirmation of new Interior secretary David Bernhardt, but then things could get weird.

Both parties in Florida oppose offshore drilling. Memories of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which sent tarballs ashore in Florida, bring fears of a future spill damaging the state’s fisheries and tourism. Many in the state also say drilling would conflict with military exercises in the area.

More particularly, now-senator Scott still wants Florida left out of any offshore drilling plan, and he’s hardly alone among local Republicans:

“We don’t want to see any of it in the Gulf, I don’t want to see any of it on the Atlantic side, which is where I represent,” Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) told POLITICO. “We’re not looking for Deepwater Horizons off of Jensen Beach, Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale Beach, Fort Pierce Beach, and we don’t want to see it out there in the Gulf.”

Even [Governor Ron] DeSantis, whom Trump endorsed in a crowded Republican primary last year, signed an executive order in January committing the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to “adamantly oppose” offshore drilling. Pressure on Republicans to oppose drilling has only grown since DeSantis was elected in November, as Democrats have homed in on fighting climate change.

Totally aside from stabbing his allies in the back, a Trump flip-flop on offshore drilling would really imperil his ability to carry Florida in 2020, a state he won in 2016 by just over a single percentage point (carrying all but one Gulf Coast county). And it’s really tough to sketch out a path to 270 electoral votes for Trump without this state’s 29 (more than Michigan and Wisconsin combined). I’m sure he’d hate to disappoint his friends in the fossil fuel industries, but it may prove necessary to Keeping America Great.

Trump May Risk Florida With Green Light on Offshore Drilling