The Riggs Report: Schwarzenegger tweaks Trump

Latest skirmish centers on efforts to expand coastal oil drilling

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took to Twitter this week to chide one of his favorite targets, President Trump, on one of his favorite topics: environmental protection.

“Don’t touch California. If you want to drill, do it off Mar-a-Lago,” Schwarzenegger tweeted, followed by, “Our coasts are an economic gold mine. Do not put them at risk.” Schwarzenegger’s feuding with Trump on social media is nothing new, but his message underscores a significant political conflict while raising a fundamental point of fairness.

There could be no new drilling off Florida’s coast where Mar-a-Lago, the president’s Palm Beach estate lies. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has granted a drilling exemption for Florida earlier this month, based on appeals to protect coastal tourism.

By contrast, Gov. Jerry Brown has asked for the same exemption, based on concerns about the potential impact on California’s fishing, recreation and tourism industries. No exemption has been granted.

Three dozen members of Congress from California, all Democrats, have also sent Zinke a letter asking him to cancel plans for expanded drilling activity offshore—the first such proposal in more than 30 years.

Last spring, Trump issued an executive order that reversed an Obama administration moratorium on oil and gas drilling in federal waters, which begin three miles from the coastline.

Zinke then announced plans this month to sell new federal leases in the Pacific Ocean, off Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California, in addition to new leases off the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

“By proposing to open up nearly the entire OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) for potential oil and gas exploration, the United States can advance the goal of moving from aspiring for energy independence to attaining energy dominance,” said Vincent DeVito, the Interior Department’s Counselor for Energy Policy, in a statement accompanying the lease sale announcement.

Despite California’s car culture and extensive driving habits, offshore oil drilling has long been a political non-starter, dating from an infamous Union Oil platform blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969. It fouled beaches, killed wildlife and gave rise to the nation’s modern environmental movement.

Schwarzenegger’s position on the issue puts him at odds with most of California’s Republican congressional delegation, who have kept quiet on the new drilling proposal.

Months of review and public input lie ahead, but the issue looms as a volatile campaign issue for a number of contested congressional seats in this already jam-packed election year.