House Dems demand hearing over Zinke offshore drilling plan

House Dems demand hearing over Zinke offshore drilling plan
© Greg Nash

Three top House Democrats are demanding a hearing with Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House to vote on anti-carbon tax measure | Dem says EPA obstructed 'politically charged' FOIA requests | GOP looks to overhaul endangered species law Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester Office of Special Counsel looking into Zinke's 'MAGA' socks MORE to discuss his proposal to expand offshore drilling.

House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Reps. Alan LowenthalAlan Stuart LowenthalGOP offshore drilling proposal triggers debate Fixing a colossal mistake in the tax bill Dems urge Interior to reverse new policy that could threaten birds MORE (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinOvernight Energy — Presented by Chevron — Watchdog to look into Zinke deal with oil exec | Perry concedes Iran sanctions could raise oil prices | GOP chair pushing ahead with probe into green groups Watchdog to probe Zinke over land deal in his hometown with oil exec Congressional staffers get lifesaving skills in 'Stop the Bleed' class MORE (D-Va.), chair of the oversight subcommittee, are demanding a full committee hearing on the development of Interior's offshore leasing plan.

In a letter sent Thursday to committee Chairman Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopWestern lawmakers introduce bills to amend Endangered Species Act New emails reveal Pruitt exempted Utah oil companies from smog rules Making Puerto Rico a state by 2021 MORE (R-Utah) requesting the hearing, the members cite a recent Politico report that Zinke had been in close contact with Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) office for months before announcing that his state was exempt from the drilling plan.

"The available information strongly suggests that the meeting and decision to remove Florida from the offshore leasing program was driven by political considerations related to the Governor’s potential race for the U.S. Senate seat," the Democrats said in a statement.

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At the time, it appeared that Zinke's decision to remove Florida from the drilling list was an impromptu one. But Politico concluded, after reviewing thousands of documents after an open records request, that the decision was "choreographed" to politically benefit the governor.

Thursday's letter to Bishop is the Dem lawmakers' second request for a hearing with Zinke on offshore drilling. They first sent a request to his office on January 24 following conflicting statements over whether Florida would be exempted from the new drilling policy. Thursday's letter says that since then, "the situation has gotten less clear."

"It is clear that we do not know the entire story about how first draft of the 5 year program was put together, nor what led to the meeting between the Governor and the Secretary at the Talahassee airport," the letter read.

"The Chairman is reviewing the letter and we are working to determine the next best steps forward," said Katie Schoettler, a spokeswoman for the committee.

Earlier this month, Zinke appeared to give contradictory statements as to the status of the offshore drilling policy for Florida after announcing the exemption.

At a Senate hearing March 13, he told the committee, "Florida is still in the process." Two days later, he told the House Natural Resources committee that "Florida did not get an exemption."

This story was updated at 4:59 p.m.