A Democratic senator who has long championed keeping oil drilling away from his state's coastline blasted the Trump administration for what he called a "political game."
A report also said the deal Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) called into question may have been motivated by the prospect the state's Republican governor may face off with him in November.
Nelson said on the Senate floor that "political games [are] being played with trying to drill off the coast of Florida."
Florida’s environment and economy shouldn’t be used as political football to be tossed around. Today, I filed legislation to permanently ban drilling off of Florida’s coast. pic.twitter.com/QRmPl3RCMd
— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) January 10, 2018
Nelson, a former NASA astronaut, was objecting to an abrupt change in plans by the Trump administration, whose oil drilling plan encompassed nearly all of the Atlantic coast.
The senator said the change appeared to be politically motivated.
Florida Republicans and Democrats - including Nelson - criticized the possibility that Florida's waters could be opened to drilling.
After a meeting with Florida's Republican governor, Rick Scott, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Florida would be waived from having new drilling take place off its coasts.
I have spent my entire life fighting to keep oil rigs away from our coasts. 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 FL. https://t.co/xJoat2m9az
— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) January 9, 2018
Nelson explained why he never wants drilling off Florida's coast, citing the damage an oil spill in the Straits of Florida or in the Gulf Stream could have on the rest of Florida and the Atlantic coastal states.
He said that it was he and former Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) who came up with a bipartisan deal to embargo oil drilling off the Florida coast until 2022.
But, he said he did not like how Scott apparently got the state waived from an otherwise all-encompassing federal drilling plan.
"Not only am I appalled, I have recoiled at this political game. But unfortunately, I'm not surprised," Nelson said, calling the administration's change a "political stunt."
On "The Daily Briefing," Phil Keating reported that Nelson is critical of the waiver because it may be seen as a feather in Scott's cap ahead of a possible showdown between the two for Nelson's seat this November.
Keating said a Nelson-Scott contest for a critical Senate seat in a state won by President Donald Trump would feature "highly-loaded" campaign coffers.
He added that the apparent deal struck between Zinke and Scott infuriated other Atlantic coast governors like New York's Andrew Cuomo (D) who asked where he could get a waiver from the White House.
In a statement, Gov. Scott's office responded to Nelson's remarks.
“Senator Nelson and anyone else who opposes oil drilling off of Florida’s coast should be happy that the governor was able to secure this commitment. This isn’t about politics. This is good policy for Florida," communications director John Tupps said.
The governor's office also said Scott had been in regular contact with the Interior Department about Florida's opposition to further offshore oil drilling for several months.
Watch Nelson's comments above and Keating's report below.