The administration of US President Donald Trump has exempted the state of Florida from controversial plans for offshore drilling for oil and gas.
The reversal comes after vocal opposition from the state’s Republican Governor Rick Scott when the plans were announced last week.
It is set to trigger further demands for exemptions from other states.
The five-year plan was to open 90% of the nation’s offshore reserves to leasing from drilling companies.
US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said it would boost the economy and ensure US “energy dominance”, but environmentalists decried it as a “shameful giveaway” to the oil industry.
Why has Secretary Zinke made this U-turn?
“The governor,” he said simply.
In a statement posted on Twitter, he explained that he agreed with Gov Scott’s position that “Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.
“As a result… I am removing Florida from consideration from any new oil and gas platforms.”
He said President Trump had directed him to “take into consideration the local and state voice” in deciding policy.
Gov Scott cheered the decision, saying he would “never stop fighting for Florida’s environment and our pristine coastline”.
But Florida’s Democratic Senator Bill Nelson smelled a rat.
Gov Scott is reportedly planning to run for an open US Senate seat.
What does the decision mean?
It means some of the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s western coast will be exempt from drilling, but not all of it.
Florida state waters extend three nautical miles from the shore on the Atlantic, and nine nautical miles on the Gulf side, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
What happens now?
“Such a quick reversal begs the question: Will the Trump administration give equal consideration to all the other coastal governors from both parties who overwhelmingly reject this radical offshore drilling plan?” asked Diane Hoskins, director of the Oceana campaign group, according to Reuters news agency.
Maryland, South Carolina and Massachusetts are among states with Republican governors also known to oppose the Draft Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Programme (2019-2024).
California’s attorney general was among several public figures who demanded similar exemptions for their states:
What’s so controversial about the plan?
Both the scale and the nature of the plan have attracted criticism – including from a coalition of 60 environmental groups, nearly a dozen attorneys general and more than 100 US lawmakers.
It opens up more than 90% of the national outer continental shelf (OCS) for development – making more than 98% of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore areas available to private companies.
At the moment, 94% of the OCS is protected.
Industry regulation was tightened by Barack Obama in the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 – a disaster still fresh in many minds.
Even the Department of Defense has concerns – about how drilling will interact with the military exercises held in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, reports Reuters.
However, industry groups have welcomed the plan.