PolitiFact Fl Gives 'Full Flop' To Gov. Scott On Offshore Oil Drilling

Jan 26, 2018
Originally published on January 26, 2018 1:59 am

One of the most sensitive topics in Florida politics has to do with oil rigs creeping closer to our shores. Recently, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke took Florida off the table when it comes to offshore oil drilling. That was lauded by Gov. Rick Scott - but it led to charges he flip-flopped.

"I'm appreciative that the Secretary came to Tallahassee to sit down and talk about it, and has committed that as a result of our interest in making sure there's no drilling here, that Florida will be taken off the table," he said at the Tallahassee airport, standing alongside Zinke.

But shortly after that announcement, a top Interior Department official contradicted Zinke, saying no formal decision on a ban had been made.

But what about Gov. Scott? His statement led to claims that he's flip-flopped on drilling. Here's the ruling from PolitiFact Florida:

Scott favored drilling in 2010

PolitiFact Florida has tracked Scott’s stance on oil drilling since his first campaign in 2010. On his campaign website then, Scott called for more drilling offshore but said that the state’s beaches must be protected.

"As we explore the expansion of domestic drilling in the U.S. we must ensure that we have sound policies in place that ensure the companies drilling are doing so in an environmentally sound way and adhering to the strictest of safety standards. ... Rick supports expansion of nuclear power, use of alternative fuels and off-shore drilling."

A Scott campaign spokeswoman told PolitiFact Florida in May 2010 that his campaign had initially posted his position before the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April and later updated it to add the phrase about the environment and safety standards.

During that summer, Scott reiterated his call for safe offshore drilling when meeting with Panhandle fishermen. Scott said drilling wouldn’t happen in the "foreseeable future. ...We are not going to drill now. ...It's not safe. It doesn't make any sense."

Scott never took significant steps toward his promise to explore expansion of drilling in a safe, environmentally sound way. We rated his promise broken in 2013.

Trump’s plan to open up drilling

In April 2017, Trump signed an executive order that aimed to expand offshore drilling. Scott was initially mum. Days later, Scott told the Tampa Bay Times that he hadn’t seen the proposal and declined to comment.

The state Department of Environmental Protection sent an Aug. 17 letter to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management raising concerns about the effects of oil and gas activities on the environment, but did not expressly oppose the drilling proposal.

On Jan. 4, Zinke announced a proposal to open up more coastal areas in Florida, California and the Atlantic to drilling.

Scott expressed his voice quickly on Twitter Jan. 4, saying that he opposed drilling:

"Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling – which is something I oppose in Florida. I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration. My top priority is to ensure that Florida's natural resources are protected, which is why I proposed $1.7 billion for the environment in this year's budget."

That rejection sounds different from his stance when he first ran for governor in 2010 and he was open to drilling.

We give Scott a Full Flop.

In keeping with the oil drilling theme, Gwen Graham, the former Congresswoman and candidate for governor, recently called out one of her Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis, for supporing offshore drilling.

"In Congress, @RonDeSantisFL was the DECIDING vote AGAINST our state's right to protect Florida waters from drilling," Graham tweeted. "Will Congressman DeSantis stand up for Florida or is he too scared of losing @realDoanldTramp's endorsement?"

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling on her tweet:

DeSantis’ specific position on drilling is squishy. Most recently, DeSantis embraced Scott's opposition to Trump's plan.

"In Florida our coastline is so important to our economy, it’s important to property values, it’s important to tourism," DeSantis said on Fox & Friends. "And we need to protect our coastline."

Other actions speak to support for the coast, including a December 2015 letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management against seismic airgun exploration and a letter in opposition to the 2017 Interior Department executive order that advanced offshore oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean.  

There’s also his vote in favor of a failed amendment that would have banned seismic testing in areas bordering Florida. He was one of 24 Republicans to vote for the testing ban. He also voted for a Graham amendement that would have restricted funds being used for the research, investigation, or study of offshore drilling. 

But that's not to say that DeSantis has always voted against drilling. 

The 210-209 vote in Graham's tweet happened years earlier.

In the summer of 2013, then-U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, proposed an amendment to the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act pushed by House Republicans. The larger bill aimed to expand U.S. offshore energy production by directing the U.S. Interior Department secretary to implement a five-year oil and gas leasing program off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Grayson’s amendment would have ensured the ability of Florida or any state to prohibit the use of drilling within its boundaries. At the time, Grayson said the amendment would have avoided the possibility of the federal government overriding states' rights to decide.

When it came to a vote, Grayson’s amendment failed by one vote, and DeSantis voted against the amendment. The larger bill passed the House but did move past the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Does that mean he was the "deciding vote?"

There’s no doubt that DeSantis’ vote was crucial. But as we have concluded in fact-checks of similar attacks, the "deciding vote" label could just as easily be applied to any other lawmaker who voted on his side — making the term a bit meaningless.

There’s no question that DeSantis’ vote on an amendment to the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act was crucial, but saying DeSantis was the deciding vote goes too far. Technically, any of the 209 other people who voted against the bill could be considered the "deciding vote."

Furthermore, the significance of Grayson’s amendment is a subject of debate. Democrats saw it as securing Florida’s right to protect Florida waters, whereas Republicans say the amendment wouldn’t have changed the powers of the state.

With everything considered, we rate this claim Half True.

Copyright 2018 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7.