Coast­lines in the crosshairs

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - OPINION - Paul Green­berg Colum­nist

It started out as a sweep­ing pro­posal to open coastal wa­ters all around the United States to ex­plo­ration and ex­ploita­tion for oil. No doubt in just that or­der. Only now this ad­min­is­tra­tion is hav­ing sec­ond and much bet­ter thoughts af­ter the peo­ple and politi­cians of Flor­ida voiced what sounded like a near-unan­i­mous re­ac­tion to this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s not-so-bright idea.

Which was not only No, but Hell No.

For it would have been the first time in some three decades that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment had put a For Lease sign on its oceanic riches.

Yep, it sounded as if this way­ward ad­min­is­tra­tion had found the ideal way to unite the coun­try — against it. Since then, the re­ac­tion of Florid­i­ans was echoed up and down coastal Amer­ica.

The up­shot: Ryan Zinke, sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior, had found him­self face-to-face with a gath­er­ing storm of Amer­i­can public opin­ion — and he blinked. Once the sec­re­tary had flown to the Tal­la­has­see In­ter­na­tional Air­port to meet with Flor­ida’s Gov. Rick Scott, he had changed his tune to one much more in har­mony with the will of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

But what state isn’t unique when it comes to the need to pro­tect its nat­u­ral re­sources from a ra­pa­cious ad­min­is­tra­tion? Ev­ery state has nat­u­ral at­trac­tions that de­serve pro­tec­tion.

What does Sec­re­tary Zinke think all those other states with coast­line are — chopped liver? Each has its own claim to fame and for­tune — and, more to the po­lit­i­cal point, each is about to hold midterm elec­tions.

And their peo­ple aren’t about to shut up and let the feds have their way with this coun­try’s en­vi­ron­men­tal birthright.

Some of us are old enough to re­mem­ber when en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists were called con­ser­va­tion­ists.

And the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon dis­as­ter — the largest oil spill in Amer­i­can his­tory — has left an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion on our con­scious­ness and con­science. Please, not again.

One such dis­as­ter is more than enough to last a life­time. While they were at it, the po­lit­i­cal mas­ter­minds in charge of plot­ting the Repub­li­can Party’s course in this year’s midterm elec­tions also seem to have stum­bled on a sure way to lose those elec­tions and, with them, their party’s ma­jori­ties in the coun­try’s House and Se­nate. Should that hap­pen, the GOP can’t claim it wasn’t warned by the op­po­si­tion.

Bob Gra­ham, a for­mer Demo­cratic gover­nor and U.S. sen­a­tor from Flor­ida, also hap­pened to co-chair the pres­i­den­tial com­mis­sion that in­ves­ti­gated the Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon calamity within this very decade.

If this ad­min­is­tra­tion had fol­lowed through on its Trumped-up plan to leave Flor­ida to the not very ten­der mer­cies of the oil-and-gas in­dus­try, the GOP would have alien­ated that state’s vot­ers not just in this year’s elec­tions but for years to come.

Marco Ru­bio, the Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from Flor­ida, was savvy enough to op­pose the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to de­clare open sea­son on Flor­ida’s most valu­able re­source: its coast­line and all the trea­sures it em­braces.

Fed­eral ju­ris­dic­tion of the wa­ters over the outer con­ti­nen­tal shelf be­gins right off­shore and then goes on for 200 miles out to sea. An­other cat­a­clysmic oil spill could drench Flor­ida’s beaches and oceanic life with oil.

Backpedal­ing as fast as she could, Heather Swift, a spokes­woman for the U.S. In­te­rior Depart­ment, as­sured one and all that this plan to put Flor­ida at risk was just a trial bal­loon. “What we rolled out last week,” she now em­pha­sizes, “was a draft plan. We will go through a rig­or­ous and ro­bust pub­lic­com­ment pe­riod where we will hear from lo­cal stake­hold­ers who both sup­port and op­pose as­pects of the plan.”

What a pity the ad­min­is­tra­tion didn’t con­sult public opin­ion be­fore it pro­duced this oily mess of a plan in­stead of af­ter­ward.

It ig­nored the first rule of pru­dent lead­ers: When in a hole, stop dig­ging. Or in this case, stop drilling.

As of Feb. 3, 10 other gov­er­nors had joined Flor­ida’s to ask the sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior to ex­empt their states from the plan to ex­pand off­shore drilling.

Ac­cord­ing to North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, “We told (Sec­re­tary Zinke) there is no 100 per­cent safe method to drill for oil and gas off the coast, par­tic­u­larly in our area off of North Carolina that sees nor’east­ers, that sees hur­ri­canes. We don’t call it the ‘Grave­yard of the At­lantic’ for noth­ing, it would be cat­a­strophic if there were to be an oil spill.”

Erik Mil­ito, a di­rec­tor for the Amer­i­can Pe­tro­leum In­sti­tute, sounds as if he’s de­cided to rely on hope rather than ex­pe­ri­ence as this all-too fa­mil­iar cri­sis mounts.

“We’re hop­ing we have as many op­tions left on the table as pos­si­ble,” he now says, “but we un­der­stand there’s pol­i­tics at play.”

For a lot of votes, not to men­tion good will, are at stake in this con­fronta­tion.

Fish­ing, tourism, and mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions could all be af­fected as our coast­lines find them­selves in the crosshairs of fed­eral pol­icy or lack thereof.

You would think that fed­eral pol­i­cy­mak­ers would have learned bet­ter af­ter Dis­as­ter No. 1 — but they haven’t.

Which is why Dis­as­ter No. 2 looms on the deep-water hori­zon.

Paul Green­berg is a colum­nist for the Arkansas DemocratGazette. Con­tact him at pgreen­berg@arkansason­line.com.

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