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: Advisory panel pushes park service to privatize campgrounds | Dems urge Perry to keep lightbulb efficiency rules | Marshall Islands declares national climate crisis Committee pushes National Park Service to privatize campgrounds Overnight Energy: Warren unveils T environmental justice plan | Trump officials eliminate board on smart grids | Proposed Trump rule aims to ease restrictions on mineral mining 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 LowenthalDemocrats dread Kennedy-Markey showdown in 2020 House leaves for six-week August recess House passes bill opposing BDS, exposing divide among Democrats MORE (D-Calif.), chair of the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, and A. Donald McEachinAston (Donale) Donald McEachinHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions House Democrats introduce new legislation to combat foreign election interference Racial politics roil Democratic Party 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 BishopHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban 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.