Even though it probably isn't necessary now, Gov. John Carney can increase our chance of getting a waiver from expanded offshore gas and oil drilling by offering up some beachfront property to President Donald Trump to sweeten the deal.
We should all applaud U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to grant a waiver to Florida concerning the agency’s desire to open up coastal areas for offshore drilling, because the move pretty much assures that no expansion of allowed areas will take place any time soon anywhere along the coast.
Governors and federal lawmakers from both parties along coastal states were riled by Zinke’s decision to allow expanded offshore drilling. They condemned the decision and vowed to fight it, but it turns out that Zinke has pretty much conceded the battle before it began.
On Tuesday, Zinke met with Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott and told him that Florida would be exempt from the ruling. Scott is a strong supporter of President Donald Trump who is likely to run for U.S. Senate. Political watchers saw the move as a way to boost Scott’s chances in the election. Also coming into play was the fact that Trump’s so-called winter White House is at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach.
To most watchers, it appeared that the president had no qualms about oil rigs sitting right off the coast and bringing the possibility of oil spills unless they happened to be within sight of property he owns and whose success he has a financial interest in.
Predictably, governors in other tourist-dominated coastal states began lining up to request similar meetings with Zinke to get their waiver. Gov. John Carney on Thursday sent his letter, saying in part, “The health of Delaware’s economy and environment are directly tied to the health of the state’s coastal areas. I cannot accept the tremendous risks associated with opening vast areas in the Atlantic to drilling. I request a meeting with you and your leadership team, as was granted to Florida, to discuss the proposal in more detail.”
Carney noted that the tourist industry in Delaware generates billions for the state annually and supports more than 60,000 jobs.
Carney, even though he is a Democrat, likely could have sweetened Delaware’s chance of getting a waiver had he included a deal on some oceanfront property for Trump. The president does have his golf course property in New Jersey, but Delaware doesn’t have a state sales tax and the cost of other things is much lower, plus we have awesome beaches and attractions, so Trump might be inclined to accept just such a proposal.
Carney could also note that while the state as a whole voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election, the folks in Sussex and Kent supported Trump, including most of the voting districts along the coast. Sparing Delaware might even give an edge to some Republican candidates in the midterms, and would surely increase his chance of taking the entire state if he runs again in 2020.
Whether Carney gets his audience with Zinke is probably moot at this point though. The courts generally don’t look too favorably toward the type of one-hand-washes-the-other political bribery that the Interior Secretary appears to be engaged in, and any coastal state that does not get the same treatment as Florida, whose waiver is apparently based on the impact of tourism in the state, will be filing a lawsuit long before any exploratory operations for placement of gas or oil rigs sail out to sea.
And speaking of lawsuits, representatives of the gas and oil industry likely will be filing suits of their own because they saw the area around Florida as full of potential and they are not happy about Zinke’s decision to remove that area from the expansion plan.
The result is that Zinke’s Interior Department now faces the potential of lawsuits from states that don’t get waivers accusing him of political favoritism in deciding which areas should be opened up for drilling, and the department faces lawsuits from the gas and oil industry accusing him of basically the same thing, but arguing for more areas instead of fewer areas to be open.
Making such a mess of things that both sides in a political argument threaten to sue you is a rare and difficult accomplishment, but Zinke managed to pull it off.
The prudent and thoughtful thing to do after this screw-up is to quietly shelve all plans to expand drilling – perhaps with the caveat that “we need to do a little more research first” – and then hope that everybody forgets about it.
But given that if we have learned anything in the past year it is that this administration is not prudent nor thoughtful, Carney might want to touch base with some southern Delaware coastal realtors to see if there are any oceanfront properties for sale that would appeal to our president. Hey, having a little insurance in your back pocket never hurt, right?
Jim Lee is Editor for Gatehouse Media Delaware. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.