NJ threatens to sue over Florida off-shore drilling exemption
PLAINSBORO — The attorney general for New Jersey has threatened to sue the federal government over plans to exempt Florida from off-shore drilling even though New Jersey and other states also remain opposed to such drilling.
Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced a request for federal documents and made the legal threat on the same day that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited New Jersey to discuss energy.
Zinke acknowledged there is "a lot of opposition" to President Donald Trump's plan to open most of the nation's coastline to oil and gas drilling.
Speaking at a forum on offshore wind energy Friday in New Jersey, Zinke touted Trump's "all of the above" energy menu that calls for oil and gas, as well as renewable energy projects.
But he noted strong opposition to the drilling plan, adding there is little to no infrastructure in many of those areas to support drilling.
"There is a lot of opposition, particularly off the East Coast and the West Coast, on oil and gas," Zinke said.
He said on the East Coast, only the governors of Maine and Georgia have expressed support for the drilling plan, which has roiled environmentalists but cheered energy interests.
"The rest of the governors are strongly opposed," he said, promising to consider the desire of coastal states when deciding on the drilling plan.
Zinke also took note of the growing number of states that are employing state-level laws to thwart the possibility of drilling off their coasts by banning infrastructure that would support drilling in state waters.
"If local communities don't want it in state waters, the states have a lot of leverage," Zinke said.
He said oil and gas production seems to be moving to waters off Latin America where regulations are less stringent, and added that oil and gas drilling is more environmentally risky that renewable energy such as wind projects, which he said have the greatest growth potential of all the options in America's energy menu.
Yet Zinke would not commit to giving any state an exemption from the program, and specifically noted that Florida has not been exempted. In January, he said "Florida is different" and indicated the state would not be part of the drilling plan.
On Friday in New Jersey, Zinke said Florida has a drilling moratorium already in place.
"No one was exempted," he said.
Grewal's office filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all correspondence and internal documents related to any meetings and conversations that took place between Zinke and Florida Gov. Rick Scott "in the run-up to the announcement of Florida’s exemption from offshore drilling on January 9, 2018."
“We are troubled by recent press reports suggesting that Florida may have received special treatment, and are taking action to discern the truth of the matter for ourselves,” Grewal said in a statement. “To this day, the federal government has never offered a detailed explanation as to why it granted Florida’s request for an exemption from offshore drilling, while forging ahead with a plan to impose this unwanted activity on New Jersey and other states.”
The secretary also announced that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will seek expressions of interest from companies about building wind energy projects in the New York Bight, an area of shallow waters between Long Island, New York, and the New Jersey coast.
Liz Burdock, executive director of the Business Network for Offshore Wind, praised Zinke for supporting wind energy projects.
"The environment, the economy, and our moral commitments contribute to the importance of U.S. offshore wind as a key component of the 'All of the Above' energy policy," she said.
New Jersey 101.5 staff contributed to this report.
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