SACRAMENTO — One of the most brazen attacks on the rule of law by the Trump administration — and we’ve seen many — came last week after the Interior Department opened up 90 percent of America’s offshore waters to drilling for oil and gas, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke arbitrarily gave Florida a free pass.
It was a stunning demonstration of politically motivated policymaking that has provoked nearly a dozen coastal states, both red and blue, to protest. Perhaps no state faces more potential harm than California.
In a statement attached to a tweet, Secretary Zinke wrote that he was exempting Florida from the new drilling because the state is “heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”
Whether he was referring to the 7.7 million people who worked along Florida’s coast in 2014, or to the $769 billion generated by Florida’s coastal economy, according to a study by the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, we can relate here in California.
Our coastal economy employed 15.8 million people and contributed $2.1 trillion to our state gross domestic product, according to that same study.
In exempting Florida from offshore oil drilling, Secretary Zinke claimed he was persuaded by “the local and state voice” of the people whose lives and livelihood could be upended by drilling.
Again, we can relate in California.
Before offering Florida an exemption, Mr. Zinke did not give us a chance to tell him about the catastrophic Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969. That spill spewed three million gallons of oil onto our coast and wreaked havoc on our economy. Today, nearly 70 percent of Californians, including state leaders from Gov. Jerry Brown on down, oppose offshore drilling.
Our laws are supposed to be blind to partisanship.
Mr. Zinke’s announcement exempting Florida from drilling came shortly after a meeting with Gov. Rick Scott in Tallahassee.
When Secretary Zinke claimed that Governor Scott is a “straightforward leader who can be trusted” — perhaps as a way to explain his decision to exempt Florida from drilling — that flew in the face of established “notice and comment” due process standards that drive federal policy decision-making.
California did not get the same reception upon approaching Mr. Zinke when Governor Brown expressed the state’s longstanding objections to drilling. We’re still waiting for our exemption.
Is this the verdict states must live with? Mr. Zinke ignores well-established federal rule-making that requires agencies to undertake a deliberative process where all constituents and stakeholders — including states like Florida and California — can weigh in on policies before they’re put into action. His capricious approach makes a mockery of our laws and deliberative process.
In California, we’re weighing our options to fight this latest example of executive overreach and partisan decision making.
Like Governor Scott, we’d love to get back to focusing “on how we can further protect our environment.” We have pressing state matters, too — from imminent wildfires to catastrophic mudslides.
If going to court is our only recourse for protecting our coastal economy, so be it. Over the past year, the Trump administration has put our people, our Constitution and our laws on trial. So far, California hasn’t lost a case.
We didn’t sit back when families were being denied entrance to our nation because of their religion. We didn’t sit back when federal funding for our law enforcement was under threat. And we didn’t sit back when President Trump attacked our health care, our students, our military service members or our Dreamers.
We don’t wake up in the morning looking to pick a fight with this administration. But we won’t sit back when our Constitution, our laws, our people or our 800 miles of pristine coastline in California are threatened.
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