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CNN interview: Brown unloads on decision to drop Florida, not Oregon from oil drilling

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown blasts the Trump administration over its decision on dropping Florida, but not other coastal states like Oregon, from its offshore oil drilling plan during an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper on Wednesday. (Image from CNN)

Gov. Kate Brown blasted U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump administration during an interview on CNN on Wednesday after they dropped an offshore oil drilling plan for Florida, but not for other coastal states, including Oregon.

She said Zinke’s move was all about politics.

“What can I think otherwise? Is it about the governor (of Florida) wanting to run for Senate? Is it about President Trump wanting to protect Mar-a-Largo? I don’t know the answer to that, because Secretary Zinke hasn’t returned our calls,” she told host Anderson Cooper.

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After a meeting with Florida Gov. Rick Scott at the airport in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Zinke announced that the Trump administration would drop that state’s coasts from the offshore drilling plan it released last week. The plan dramatically expands the potential for oil drilling in the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific oceans.

Brown was not the only Democrat on Wednesday tying politics to the administration’s decision.

Others said President Donald Trump and Zinke were being hypocritical by agreeing to a request by Florida's Republican governor to withdraw from the drilling plan, but not making the same accommodation to states with Democratic governors.

Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California said on Twitter that his state, "like Florida, has hundreds of miles of beautiful coastline and a governor who wants to keep it that way. Or is that not enough for blue states?"

"If local voices matter why haven't they excluded Virginia?" asked Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. "Is it because the governor of Florida is a Republican and the Virginia governor is a Democrat?"

The complaints came as South Carolina's Republican governor said Wednesday he is seeking an exemption from the proposed drilling expansion, a move that will test the relationship between Trump and one of his earliest supporters.

Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters that risks associated with drilling pose a serious threat to South Carolina's lush coastline and $20 billion tourism industry.

"We cannot afford to take a chance with the beauty, the majesty and the economic value and vitality of our wonderful coastline in South Carolina," McMaster said.

Opposition to drilling is bipartisan within South Carolina's congressional delegation: All three House members who represent the state's 190 miles of coastline told The Associated Press they are against the expansion plan. Two of the three are Republicans, including Rep. Mark Sanford, a former governor who said Zinke had set a precedent by honoring Florida's request for an exemption.

"What's good for the goose is good for the gander," Sanford said, adding that Republicans should respect local wishes.

In Virginia, GOP Rep. Scott Taylor joined Kaine and Gov.-elect Ralph Northam in opposing the drilling plan. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., called Trump's plan "a complete non-starter."

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said on Twitter that "the only science @SecretaryZinke follows is political science. He'll reverse course to protect fellow Republicans in Florida, but not to protect coastlines and jobs across the rest of the country? Totally unacceptable."

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke, accused Kaine and other Democrats of taking cheap shots at her boss.

"The secretary has said since day one that he is interested in the local voice. If those governors would like to request meetings with the secretary, they are absolutely welcome to do so," she said. "Their criticism is empty pandering."

As of Wednesday, only McMaster and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina had requested a meeting with Zinke on offshore drilling, Swift said.

But Brown said on CNN that not only has her office reached out to Zinke, but she would love to meet with him.

“We would love to have our input on this policy. It impacts our people, it impacts our economy, it impacts our tourism, and I would love to share my thoughts with Secretary Zinke, and look forward to meeting with him if he would return our phone calls.”

She added that she and other governors never had a chance to share their thoughts on the plan.

“We had no clue that this was coming, and we had no opportunity to express our outrage. We are outraged. This is absolutely unacceptable,” Brown said.

The day before she took to Twitter to ask Zinke for relief. Linking to Zinke tweet about Florida, Brown wrote: "Hey @secretaryzinke, how about doing the same for #Oregon?"

Zinke’s change of course — just five days after Zinke announced the offshore drilling plan — highlights the political importance of Florida, where Trump narrowly won the state's 29 electoral votes in the 2016 election and has encouraged Scott to run for Senate.

Former White House ethics chief Walter Shaub said Zinke's decision to exempt Florida from the drilling plan appears to be a conflict of interest for Trump.

Trump is "exempting the state that is home to the festering cankerous conflict of interest that the administration likes to call the 'Winter White House' (Mar-a-Lago) and none of the other affected states," Shaub tweeted.

Zinke said Tuesday that "Florida is obviously unique" and that the decision to remove the state came after meetings and discussion with Scott, a Trump ally and a likely candidate for the Senate seat now held by Democrat Bill Nelson.

Nelson called Scott's meeting with Zinke "a political stunt" and said Scott has long wanted to drill off Florida's coast, despite his recent opposition.

Scott's office said he repeatedly voiced his opposition to drilling to Zinke, including at an October meeting in Washington.

"Senator Nelson and anyone else who opposes oil drilling off Florida's coast should be happy the governor was able to secure this commitment. This isn't about politics. This is good policy for Florida," said John Tupps, a Scott spokesman.

The five-year plan announced by Zinke would open 90 percent of the nation's offshore reserves to development by private companies.

Industry groups praised the announcement, while environmental groups denounced the plan, saying it would impose "severe and unacceptable harm" to America's oceans, coastal economies, public health and marine life.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also oppose oil drilling off their coasts.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly reported from Washington, D.C. AP writers Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., Ben Finley in Norfolk, Va., and Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

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