Last week, Secretary of the Department of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced Florida would be exempt from the Trump administration’s plans to drill for oil along the U.S. coastline. As New Times reported, that one-off exemption was probably illegal. Singling out the Sunshine State because “Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver” is in pretty clear violation of the Administrative Procedures Act, which says these kinds of decisions cannot be made for reasons that are “arbitrary and/or capricious.” The governors of states that line America’s shores reacted to this decision with outrage — and rightly so. Wouldn’t you want to protect your beaches?
The problem is that in defending other beaches, critics have argued that Florida’s stretches of sand are no better than anywhere else’s. That’s where they’re wrong. All coasts deserve to be protected from offshore drilling. If we could all just agree that offshore drilling is insane, that the age of oil is at its end, and that it’s time to begin giving Elon Musk and Bill Nye our money to do, really, anything they want to save the planet, everyone would probably be a lot happier. But don’t deny that Florida beaches are categorically the best in the nation — because they are. This issue has sent critics down a slippery slope of making comparisons that honestly shouldn’t be made. In a recent Washington Post article, titled “Beaches Line the Coast Like Pearls. Other States Ask Why Florida’s Are More Special,” Darryl Fears writes, “Beach tourism on the coast drives Florida’s economy, but the same is true of Maryland and Virginia, where Ocean City and Virginia Beach are major tourist draws… Beaches line the Atlantic coast like a string of pearls: Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head in South Carolina, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Bethany Beach in Delaware, Atlantic City and its surrounding areas in New Jersey, Jones Beach on Long Island in New York, and Martha’s Vineyard off Massachusetts.”
All of those places have tourism economies, as well as fisheries and wildlife habitats, well worth preserving. But: “Like a string of pearls”? Have you ever seen a string of pearls? They’re all the same. Fears is an admirable and respectable journalist, but how can you compare Miami Beach to Bethany Beach in Delaware? You know how much tourism accounted for Delaware’s revenue in 2014? About $3 billion. You know how much the tourism industry brings to Florida? A whopping $67 billion. Granted, the Delaware statistic is a few years old, but it’s unlikely the state has increased tourism 2,100 percent in the past four years unless it has discovered an unlimited supply of diamonds there or begun offering flights to the moon out of Wilmington International Airport.
Sorry, but Florida beaches are more special. Siesta Key in Sarasota was named the best beach in the United States — twice! St. Augustine is the oldest colonial city in the nation and probably has the Fountain of Youth hidden in it somewhere. Key West was hit by a massive hurricane and was getting buck wild for Fantasy Fest less than two months later.
And Miami Beach is Miami Beach. It’s a pastel art deco paradise. It’s sunshine and sex appeal and strangeness year-round, season after season, until the Caribbean swallows the whole city back into the drink. There are some lovely beaches on the East Coast, beaches in Maine and North Carolina and even New Jersey, but none of them comes with a city as bright and as beautiful, as magical and debauched, as singularly special as Miami and Miami Beach.
Xavier Becerra, the governor of California, voiced his serious objections to the prospect of offshore drilling and argued that Zinke’s reasons for exempting Florida’s coastline are just as true about California’s. Sure, California is amazing and its beaches are unquestionably stunning — but their water is cold, and ours isn’t. Plus, when it rains in Los Angeles, the sewage-treatment plants overflow into the ocean and turn Santa Monica into a cesspool.
I’m not saying offshore drilling would be more acceptable in another state than it would be in Florida. Other coastal states should be proud of their beaches and their distinct cultural identities. They should protect their ecosystems and their industries. And none of this is to say Gov. Rick Scott is anything short of an evil, money-grubbing, voter-repressing, scientifically illiterate, environmentally ignorant, cold-blooded idiot. It’s just that, well, our beaches are better. Deal with it.