By Fred Grimm, Sun Sentinel
Alaskans must wonder what makes Florida so damn special. Why would the president allow oil drillers to rip into their Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but declare coastal Florida off limits?
Easy answer. We’ve got 29 votes in the Electoral College. Alaska has three.
Florida also has an electorate so evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats that the state’s meager few undecideds will do the deciding in the presidential election. For them, a single niggling issue like offshore drilling just might seal the deal.
Describing himself, with mendacious grandiosity, as “the Number One environmental president since Teddy Roosevelt,” Trump told a throng of admirers near the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse last week that he was extending the ban on drilling off Florida’s coast for another 10 years. “This protects your beautiful Gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come,” he said.
His announcement wasn’t meant to persuade his cheering, flag-waving sycophants at the Jupiter Inlet. Their presidential preference was as obvious as the excitement writ on their unmasked faces. No persuasion necessary. Besides, if uppity elites don’t approve of something, like offshore drilling, the MAGA gang’s all for it.
A Quinnipiac University Poll last year found that a majority of the state’s Republicans were OK with offshore drilling, despite the gooey prospect of tar balls stippling Florida’s famous beaches. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster – largest oil spill in U.S. history – has apparently slipped from the Republicans’ collective memory.
But when Quinnipiac added the opinions of Democrats and independents to the calculation, 64 percent of Floridians are opposed to offshore drilling. Which explains why Trump, who was tied with Joe Biden in Florida, according to a NBC News/Marist poll released last week, has remade himself into a greenie, albeit a geographically limited greenie.
“Trump is the great environmentalist,” Trump said of himself in Jupiter, forgetting that his administration has sabotaged more than 100 environmental regulations that limited carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles and power plants, regulated the disposal of toxic chemicals and prohibited the release of methane gas from oil and gas wells.
Trump’s administration emasculated clean water rules and, just two weeks ago, loosened the limits on how much mercury and arsenic coal mines can dump into streams and rivers.
Trump has ridiculed concerns over global warming. His henchmen have drastically weakened the Endangered Species Act and undermined special protections for sea mammals, migratory birds, wild salmon and grizzly bears.
In Alaska, Trump is allowing gas and oil outfits to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and other federal lands and is giving logging crews access to 5,200 acres of old-growth habitat in the Tongass National Forest.
The coup de grâce for nature lovers came in June, when Trump’s Department of Interior transformed Alaska’s wildlife preserves into an oxymoron, deciding that hunters could kill hibernating bear and wolf cubs in their winter dens.
No one confuses Donald Trump with Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
But in Florida, and apparently only in Florida, he magically transforms himself into the “Number 1 environmental president.” (The coastal waters of Georgia and South Carolina were also included in the executive order banning offshore drilling. North Carolina, which has a Democratic governor, was excluded.)
In Florida, energy companies have long wanted to exploit the Destin Dome, a huge cache (up to three trillion cubic feet) of natural gas under the Gulf of Mexico, just 25 miles south of Pensacola.
Before his abrupt transformation last week, Trump had been sympathetic to such corporate wants. In 2018, the Department of Interior developed a plan to lease drilling rights for more than 90 percent of America’s coastal waters. That includes 100 million acres of Arctic waters off Alaska.
Florida has suddenly been granted a special status. Of course, most of the state’s congressional delegation, including both Republican senators, oppose coastal drilling. Last fall, a bill sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples that would permanently ban drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast was approved by the House of Representative: 248 to 180. (The Senate has yet to consider the matter.)
State politicians and our Number One environmental president understand that their Florida constituents would punish any politician who allowed oil rigs in our coastal waters. We love our beaches too much.
I’m sure Alaskans similarly love their vast, unspoiled, environmentally sensitive wilderness. Unfortunately, they only have three votes in the Electoral College.
Fred Grimm, a longtime resident of Fort Lauderdale, has worked as a journalist in South Florida since 1976. Reach him by email at email@example.com or on Twitter: @grimm_fred
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.