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Florida Democrat plays hardball on Trump's offshore drilling plan

The Interior Department needs to submit a new proposal on offshore lease plans if it wants its nominees appointed, Sen. Bill Nelson said.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Florida Democrat plays hardball on Trump's offshore drilling plan
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., works to block federal appointments to the Interior Department until the agency formally redrafts an offshore lease proposal to include a ban on drilling off the Florida coast. File photo by Pete Marovich/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 18 (UPI) -- A Florida senator at the heart of the push back on President Trump's offshore drilling plans said he was blocking federal appointments in a move for clarity.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he placed a hold on three nominees for positions in the Interior Department until Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke submits a new draft of a five-year lease plan for offshore drilling that preserves a moratorium on drilling in the eastern waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

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"In placing a hold on the nominees, Nelson has blocked the Senate from approving their nominations by a procedure known as 'unanimous consent' -- or passage without a vote -- while his hold is in place," his office said in an emailed statement.

Zinke announced Jan. 4 that nearly all of the outer continental shelf would be open to drillers in the next five-year lease starting in 2019. Under the current lease plan, released by former President Barack Obama, the Trump administration, a vocal supporter of the fossil fuels industry, said about 90 percent of the total acreage offshore was put off limits.

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The proposed program, opened for public comment, called for 19 lease sales offshore Alaska, seven in the Pacific Region, 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic. The following week, Zinke emerged from a meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Tallahassee with an announcement that the lease plan was modified to remove the Florida coastline from consideration.

Nelson said in a letter to Zinke last week the federal government needs to resubmit the lease plan in order to reflect the changes. Without any sort of formal amendment, Nelson said the secretary's about-face on Florida were "just empty words."

Nelson is an adamant opponent of drilling offshore, but Zinke's decision on Florida prompted bipartisan backlash from state leaders suggesting the move was a political favor to Gov. Scott.

RELATED Interior Department plans massive expansion of offshore drilling

A narrow victory in Florida tipped the 2016 election to put Donald Trump in the White House. Nelson, meanwhile, is a possible target of a Senate bid by the term-limited governor of Florida.

Industry figures show that oil and natural gas could account for about 75 percent of the global demand expected over the next 20 years. With the United States emerging as a dominant global exporter of oil and gas, supporters of Trump's plan said tapping more offshore resources made sense. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry's main lobby group, said Zinke's decision on Florida was premature.

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