This week, New Jersey’s attorney general sued the US Department of the Interior (DOI) for failing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking more information about why the DOI exempted Florida from offshore oil drilling lease auctions but not any other state.
The drama started earlier this year when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke moved to open more than 90 percent of federal offshore land to lease by oil and gas companies for oil drilling. State waters extend three miles offshore, at which point federal control over the waters and sea bed underneath it begin. This means that states don’t always have a lot of control over whether there’s an offshore oil drilling rig 3.1 miles offshore and beyond.
But some states contend that they should have more say in whether the federal government leases out its waters to offshore oil drilling because the states bear the economic brunt of any oil spills that happen. (The Deepwater Horizon rig, for example, was 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana.) For that reason, Democratic and Republican governors alike, from 10 of the states near newly opened federal waters, have opposed the Trump administration’s efforts to open up their offshore areas.
Florida Governor Rick Scott was one of those who opposed the offshore drilling plan. On the same day that Secretary Zinke announced the offshore drilling plan, Governor Scott announced that he was requesting an immediate meeting with Zinke to make sure that Florida would be exempt from having federal waters off its coastline open to auction. Scott later announced that Florida would be exempt from offshore oil drilling lease sales.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal wanted to know why Florida received this special treatment. Grewal filed a FOIA in April requesting “all correspondence and internal documents related to any meetings and conversations that took place between the offices of US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Florida Governor Rick Scott,” leading up to the offshore drilling announcement.
But DOI hasn’t responded to the FOIA, so New Jersey filed a lawsuit to compel the department to turn over the appropriate documents.
“The administration continues to stonewall on a simple question: why did they agree to exempt Florida from offshore drilling while refusing to do the same for New Jersey?” Attorney General Grewal stated in a press release. “Six months have gone by with no answer. As a state with a pristine coast that is important to our environment and to our economy, New Jersey’s rationale for opposing offshore drilling is every bit as valid as Florida’s.”
“New Jersey’s 130-mile coastline generated more than $44 billion in coastal tourism revenue in 2016, supporting more than 838,000 jobs and generating $5.6 billion in federal taxes,” the press release adds.
Florida’s economy took a significant hit after the Deepwater Horizon spill, and its legislators have been generally opposed to offshore drilling since then. One tactic Florida has used to shut down hints of drilling off Florida waters has been to invoke military requirements. The eastern Gulf has been able to secure a drilling moratorium as the US government uses that area to test “emerging technologies such as hypersonics, autonomous systems, and advanced sub-surface systems,” according to a 2017 memo from a Florida congressman to the Department of Defense.