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: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog Overnight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on reopening plans 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 LowenthalOvernight Energy: EPA declines to regulate chemical tied to developmental damage | Democrats unveil .5T infrastructure plan | Land management bureau eases requirements for oil, gas royalty cut requests Land management bureau lessens requirements for oil and gas royalty cut requests Police unions face lobbying fights at all levels of government MORE (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinSanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 House Democrats seek to codify environmental inequality mapping tool  House coronavirus bill aims to prevent utility shutoffs 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 BishopOVERNIGHT ENERGY: DOJ whistleblower cites Trump tweets as impetus for California emissions probe | Democrats set July vote for major conservation bill, blaming Republicans for delay | Trump vows crackdown on monument vandalism Democrats set July vote for major conservation bill, blaming Republicans for delay Natural Resources Democrats again rebuff Republican complaints about virtual meetings 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.