With the General Assembly back in session, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan may be a busy fellow these days, but he really ought to take time from his normal duties to pick up the telephone and give Florida Gov. Rick Scott a call. Governor Scott has just demonstrated the kind of pull with the Trump administration that ordinary governors, even Republicans, can only dream about — and that Maryland could sure use right about now.
Less than one week after announcing a controversial plan to dramatically expand offshore drilling in nearly all U.S. continental waters, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has offered an exception to the state of Florida — the only state to receive such status — that Governor Scott was only too happy to accept. Why? Secretary Zinke said it was because the Florida coast was “unique” and “heavily” economically reliant on tourism. And anyone who believes that can probably find someone willing to sell them low-cost marshland in just about every other coastal state.
As we’ve noted before, the Trump administration’s plan to give carte blanch to oil and gas drilling on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts is not only an environmental disaster, it’s not even smart energy policy. It’s a path toward greater oil dependency, not energy independence — and a costly one, too. Florida is hardly the only state crowded with coastal resorts. From Mount Desert Island in Maine to Georgia’s Sea Island, the East Coast is jam-packed with beach towns and hotels, marinas and waterfront restaurants. Maryland’s Atlantic Coast is literally nothing but a beach resort and protected parkland. Miami has more non-tourism industry than Ocean City.
The irony of the decision is, of course, that neither President Donald Trump nor Governor Scott are exactly big defenders of the environment. But Mr. Scott knows the prospect of additional oil rigs off the coast of Florida, which is still smarting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, would be bad politics. Such a move is near-universally opposed by voters in his state. And Mr. Scott is a devout Trump ally whom the president wants to run for the U.S. Senate. And that’s not even bothering to mention that Florida is a potential swing state for any GOP presidential candidate or that Mr. Trump has some self-interest there, too, given that his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach is the unofficial “Southern White House.”
Add all those circumstances together and, of course, Secretary Zinke is going to give Florida a pass on coastal oil drilling in record time. The Interior Department is supposedly reviewing the proposal to expand drilling and might consider downsizing it elsewhere, but the Florida decision suggests that’s a, pardon the expression, pipe dream. For Maryland to get similar consideration is going to require more than pointing out the $17 billion size of the tourism economy (Ocean City alone gets about 8 million visitors each year). It’s going to require what Walter Shaub, the former government ethics head, calls the “banana republic” mentality manifested by the Florida exemption.
Step one, Governor Hogan needs to pledge undying fealty to President Trump. Yes, yes, it’s painful, but most Republicans in Congress seem to have set aside their self-respect and swallowed that one, so why not governors? Sadly, that’s just the beginning. Next, Mr. Hogan is going to have to tell Mr. Zinke he’s running for U.S. Senate against Ben Cardin this year instead of seeking re-election as governor. Admittedly, it’s a little late in the game, but it’s still more than a month until candidate filing deadline, and he doesn’t actually have to run, he just has to be a candidate long enough get the exemption. Third, Mr. Hogan needs to rename the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina the Trump Cambridge Gilded Palace or some such nonsense and give Mr. Trump’s sons a piece of the action. Weirdly, that might actually be a good thing for Maryland taxpayers.