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Zinke defends Florida offshore drilling exemption

Zinke defends Florida offshore drilling exemption

Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWhy grizzly bear hunting season isn’t happening Trump administration proposes tough rules on protests Overnight Energy: Trump officials propose tough rules on protests | EPA chief calls racist Facebook post he liked 'offensive'| Dems push Zinke to rescind 'open science' order MORE said he decided to exempt Florida from a plan to expand offshore drilling because the state is "different" compared to other states.

Speaking to the Senate Natural Resources Committee about the Interior Department's proposed fiscal 2019 budget Tuesday, Zinke said his announcement in January to remove Florida from the list of coastal states that might see expanded drilling is due to a unique variety of factors affecting the state.

"Now, Florida’s different for three reasons. One is that every member, both sides of the aisle, wrote me an immediate letter, said, ‘We don’t want it,' " Zinke said responding to a question for Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingCollusion judgment looms for key Senate panel People have forgotten 'facade' of independent politicians, says GOP strategist Senate poised to confirm Kavanaugh after bitter fight MORE (I-Maine) on why Florida was exempt and Maine was not.

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"Second is your governor. Governor of Maine is for it. And third, Florida has a federal moratorium in place until 2022, which no other state has."

Zinke added that he initially left Florida on the of state waters under consideration for drilling because otherwise "it would have been arbitrary and capricious." But he added that the final decision on Florida was "still in the process."

Interior announced that it would be considering expanding offshore drilling leases in public waters in the outer shelf in January.

Zinke said at the Tuesday hearing that the final proposal, which would detail which coastal state waters will be included in the plan, would be released in the fall.

King also challenged the secretary on news that the Interior Department was looking to drop the royalty rates it collects on oil sold through current offshore leases.

An Interior advisory panel recommended that the department reduce royalty rates by a third in February, a decision that has faced heavy criticism.

Zinke said that the recommendations were still being weighed and no formal decision has been made. 

"I haven’t made the decision because I have not looked at it in detail," said Zinke.

When King asked if Interior had data to support that the reduction was necessary in order to execute the open leases, Zinke responded, "I would say there’s an argument."

"An argument is not data. In other words, there’s been no economic analysis to justify this massive cut?" King asked Zinke in return. "These are the resources that belong to the people of the United States. We’re taking money out of the pockets of taxpayers."

Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Congress moves to ensure the greater availability of explosives detecting dogs in the US Overnight Energy — Presented by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — Trump ends law enforcement program at wildlife refuges | Pruitt canceled trips he already had tickets for | Senate panel approves new parks fund MORE (D-Wash.) pressed Zinke on the budget's proposal to extract oil and gas resources rather than expanding on renewables.

Interior's renewable energy program is the only energy program facing cuts in the proposed budget.

Zinke said the reason for the cuts is that demand for renewable energy was expected to drop.

"Did I not just hear you say in offshore oil drilling there’s low demand, but yet you’re increasing the budget in those areas? So I’m just confused with the overall energy policy," Cantwell told him.

Zinke told Cantwell he had higher hopes for offshore drilling.

"I think it’s going to be a bellwether of interest [in] offshore vs. onshore," he said.