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: Zinke joins Trump-tied lobbying firm | Senators highlight threat from invasive species | Top Republican calls for Green New Deal vote in House Zinke, Lewandowski join Trump veterans’ lobbying firm Is a presidential appointment worth the risk? 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: Court rules for Trump in environmental case over border wall | House bill would stop Alaska refuge drilling | Ads target Dems over Green New Deal Lawmakers introduce bill to ban drilling in Alaska wildlife refuge Overnight Energy: Wheeler weathers climate criticism at confirmation hearing | Dems want Interior to stop drilling work during shutdown | 2018 was hottest year for oceans MORE (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinVirginia Dems call on Fairfax to resign following sexual assault allegations Virginia delegate plans to introduce articles of impeachment unless Fairfax resigns Virginia lawmakers call for Fairfax to resign after woman accuses him of rape 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 BishopSenate votes to extend key funding mechanism for parks Republicans push back at first climate hearings Climate change on front burner after 8 years of GOP rule 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.