Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday acknowledged there is "a lot of opposition" to President Donald Trump's plan to open most of the nation's coastline to oil and gas drilling.
Speaking at a forum on offshore wind energy in Plainsboro, New Jersey, Zinke touted Trump's "all of the above" energy menu that calls for oil and gas, as well as renewable energy projects.
But he noted strong opposition to the drilling plan, adding there is little to no infrastructure in many of those areas to support drilling.
"There is a lot of opposition, particularly off the East Coast and the West Coast, on oil and gas," Zinke said.
He said on the East Coast, only the Republican governors of Maine and Georgia have expressed support for the drilling plan, which has roiled environmentalists but cheered energy interests. Maine Gov. Paul LePage has endorsed the plan, but Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has hesitated to take a public position on it.
"The rest of the governors are strongly opposed," Zinke said, promising to consider the desire of coastal states when deciding on the drilling plan.
Zinke also took note of the growing number of states that are employing state-level laws to thwart the possibility of drilling off their coasts by banning infrastructure that would support drilling in state waters.
"If local communities don't want it in state waters, the states have a lot of leverage," Zinke said.
Zinke said oil and gas production seems to be moving to waters off Latin America where regulations are less stringent, and added that oil and gas drilling is more environmentally risky than renewable energy such as wind projects, which he said have the greatest growth potential of all the options on America's energy menu.
Yet Zinke would not commit to giving any state an exemption from the program, and specifically noted that Florida has not been exempted. In January, he said "Florida is different" and indicated the state would not be part of the drilling plan.
On Friday in New Jersey, Zinke said Florida has a drilling moratorium already in place.
"No one was exempted," he said.
While the secretary was far from waving the white flag on the drilling proposal, elected officials and environmentalists smelled blood in the water. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo applauded the interior department's plan to solicit interest in wind projects off the New York and New Jersey coasts, which was announced Friday, but renewed his request to be exempted from the drilling plan.
"We believe offshore wind is a better direction for our economy, for our environment and for our energy future," the Democratic governor said.
New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat representing part of the Jersey shore, was ready to ring the death knell for the drilling plan — even if Zinke wasn't.
"While it is encouraging that Secretary Zinke has implied that the administration understands that drilling for oil and gas off of the East Coast is not a viable option, it is concerning that the secretary has not provided concrete assurance to New Jerseyans" about being left out of the plan, Pallone said.
Cindy Zipf of the Clean Ocean Action environmental group said Zinke should "back off and tell President Trump the Atlantic is a no-go zone for offshore oil and gas development."
The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management also announced Friday it is proposing lease sales for two additional areas off Massachusetts for commercial wind energy projects totaling nearly 390,000 acres.
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