Florida governor and environmental savior Rick Scott has done it again—made a decision based primarily on his concern for the environment. Actually, strike that and replace with the opposite.
Politically expedient and climate change denying Gov. Scott made a calculation that pushing back against offshore drilling along Florida’s coastlines—which the Trump administration threatens to do with its latest plan—would be personally beneficial, especially considering his potential run at the open Senate seat this year as his governorship winds down.
How do we know this? A little something called a track record.
But first, a scene setter.
Late Tuesday, Secretary of the Interior and perpetually disappointing outdoorsman Ryan Zinke tweeted that, even though just five days before he’d announced that the Trump administration plans to open nearly the entire outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling, he’d changed his mind about Florida—and only Florida. Why? A brief meeting with Gov. Scott where the governor expressed concerns about the shitty plan, especially its effects on tourism. Apparently, that’s all it takes.
Zinke called Gov. Scott a “straightforward leader,” adding that he supports Scott’s position that “Florida is unique.”
The backlash to the tweet as almost as swift as the backlash to the original proposal to start drilling in long-protected coastal waters. Take Bill Nelson, Gov. Scott’s Democratic opponent in the Senate race, who is strongly against the drilling plan.
“I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. But now, suddenly, Secretary Zinke announces plans to drill off Florida’s coast and four days later agrees to ‘take Florida off the table?’ I don’t believe it,” Nelson said in a statement. “This is a political stunt orchestrated by the Trump administration to help Rick Scott, who has wanted to drill off Florida’s coast his entire career. We shouldn’t be playing politics with the future of Florida.”
Although both parties in Florida have long opposed offshore drilling due to its potential impact on tourism (as is the case in many coastal states), Gov. Scott is otherwise no friend of the environment. In his first term, he made major budget cuts to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and regional water management districts, and opened up state parks to private ventures. According to the Florida Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the DEP has opened 75 percent fewer pollution regulation enforcement cases since 2011, when Gov. Scott came into office.
As HuffPost points out, Gov. Scott has also been highly inconsistent in his views on offshore drilling, even going as far as to support it just weeks after the devastating BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in nearby waters in 2010.
In a 2014 op-ed, the Tampa Bay Times called Gov. Scott’s environmental record a “disaster”:
Scott has bulldozed a record of environmental protection that his Republican and Democratic predecessors spent decades building. He weakened the enforcement of environmental laws and cut support for clean water, conservation and other programs. He simultaneously made it easier for the biggest polluters and private industries to degrade the state’s natural resources. While the first-term Republican attempts to transform himself into an environmentalist during his re-election campaign, his record reflects a callous disregard for the state’s natural resources and no understanding of how deeply Floridians care about their state’s beauty and treasures.
In 2015, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting broke the story that administrators in his Department of Environmental Protection were banned from using the terms “global warming” or “climate change,” an especially ridiculous move considering Florida is one of the states most threatened with catastrophic impacts.
Like a true politician, Gov. Scott generally avoids wading directly into the climate change debate—could be politically harmful—instead often choosing to go with the popular and asinine saying “I’m not a scientist,” which was very trendy before President Trump made it so words didn’t really matter anymore. According to Politifact, his statements about his efforts to deal with sea level rise have been largely exaggerated.
True to expedient form though, in the last year or so Scott’s awoken to the fact that a significant number of people care about the issue in his swing state, and if he wants to win another election, he might have to act like he does, too.
Last May, Gov. Scott signed a law that would create a reservoir to send more water to the frequently drought-stricken Everglades and prevent polluting discharges from Lake Okeechobee, a major environmental issue in South Florida. Also in 2016, he signed onto the “Legacy Florida” bill that created a dedicated fund for Everglades and springs restoration.
As noted in the Tampa Bay Times op-ed, Scott frequently dons his environmentalist cap going into election campaigns. This time, it just feels a bit too obvious, but that’s a hallmark of the Trump era.
In fact, it’s reminiscent of the time Vice President Mike Pence went to an NFL game just so he could leave in protest when players took a knee during the national anthem. The Trump administration has no shame when it comes to telegraphing their symbolism.