The Transylvania Times -

Why Florida And Not N.C.?


January 25, 2018

On Jan. 4, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke announced the next steps for the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. Under that proposal, areas off the east and west coasts of the United States would be opened for oil and gas exploration and development.

Nor surprisingly, many state officials in the potentially affected states, as well as some of their Congressional representatives, such as Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, expressed their opposition to the decision. That opposition was refueled just five days later on Jan. 9 when Zinke, after meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott, tweeted that Zinke would be “removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms.”

There was immediate speculation that Florida had been exempted from such exploration for purely political purposes. Scott, a Republican, is considered an upcoming U.S. Senate candidate. Since Floridians of both political parties oppose exploration and drilling off the Florida coasts, such a stance could only help Scott’s election chances. The other factor is that President Trump owns Mar-a-Lago, which is situated on Florida’s East Coast.

Zinke, however, said the reason he exempted Florida from oil and gas exploration and development is that Florida relies heavily on tourism and that the “local and state voice” was important.

Since that exemption was announced, numerous governors of coastal states have announced that they too would request exemptions from the program. Earlier this week North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper told a crowd of business leaders and elected officials in Wilmington, “Following the public comment period, if our state is not granted the same exemption that Florida received, we will take legal action to protect our coastal communities and prevent drilling off the North Carolina coast.”

Cooper seems to be in a much more logical, if not stronger, position than Zinke. For one, Zinke exempted Florida with little or no public input, scientific review or environmental impact statement. Cooper is encouraging state officials, business people and residents to register their opposition to the exploration and drilling during a 60-day comment period.

Logically, if Florida is exempt due to its reliance on tourism and local opposition, so should North Carolina. While Florida’s coasts are tourist attractions, its largest single tourist attraction, Walt Disney World, as well as nearby Universal Studios, is in the center of the state. In North Carolina, it is our beaches and mountains that are the main attractions for tourists. According to Cooper, tourism along the North Carolina coast generates $3 billion annually and provides 30,000 jobs in eastern North Carolina.

It’s not just tourism that could be affected. North Carolina, with its sounds and estuaries, also has a vibrant commercial fishing economy. Per square mile, it is far more productive than Florida’s, where ocean side development and overfishing has significantly damaged commercial fishing in that state, particularly along the lower Atlantic Coast.

Also, North Carolinians of both political parties are opposed to offshore drilling. Rep. Ted Davis, a Republican from New Hanover County, said, “We must protect our coastal environment, our quality of life and our local economy from such activity.”

Given Zinke’s rationale for exempting Florida from the program, there’s no reason he should not exempt North Carolina as well.


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