WASHINGTON -- Facing mounting pressure from fellow Republicans who see little constituent support for drilling off the Atlantic Coast, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke could be backpedaling on the Trump administration's initial plans to expand the program, GOP lawmakers told McClatchy.
In a meeting with affected coastal GOP representatives last week, Zinke reaffirmed an exemption from the drilling for Florida, hinted to New Jersey officials their state was likely to be spared and left a Virginia congressman optimistic the policy would be overturned for his state, too. And Zinke said he'd travel to South Carolina to get a better sense of that state's concerns as well.
If Zinke carves out exceptions for all these states, the idea of cross-Atlantic oil drilling basis could be dead.
The new policy had seemed clear in early January, when Zinke, at the White House's behest, said he would expand drilling all along the Atlantic. Then he gave an exemption to Florida, and other states -- many of which have Republican-dominated congressional delegations -- began demanding similar treatment.
Seeking to clean up a bureaucratic mess, Zinke has since been visiting Capitol Hill and speaking with governors who want carve-outs. After a Feb. 27 meeting Zinke convened on Capitol Hill with East Coast Republican representatives, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said her boss was "happy to meet with coastal representatives to discuss the offshore plan."
But Zinke is leaving confusion in his wake.
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Lawmakers from Florida emerged from that recent meeting convinced they were still going to get their exemption, citing a united delegation and a longstanding federal moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
New Jersey Republicans said Zinke, a former Montana congressman, strongly implied their coast would be spared, too, because some studies suggested drilling there would not yield much oil.
Rep. Scott Taylor, R-Va., said he was confident his state would get an exemption because of tourism and the Navy's concerns about drilling near a military base.
And Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., said he was encouraged both by Zinke's promise to visit the South Carolina coast and his indication "to me that strong resistance (inside the state) will certainly be taken into account."