Senators asked to assure Florida's coastal protections
July 24, 2006
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Anticipating House Republicans might gut a Senate energy bill by combining it with their plan for more oil drilling off Florida and the entire U.S. coast, Senator Bill Nelson is filing legislation that asks senators to reject up-front the competing proposal.
“If the Senate position, providing protections for Florida’s economy and environment, is at risk in negotiations with House members, then I can’t support sending something over to them for a series of closed-door negotiations,” Nelson said today. “During these negotiations, supporters of more drilling easily could adopt their own horrendous plan to allow oil and gas rigs just several miles off the nation’s shorelines.”
Because Republican Senate leaders have yet to give Nelson iron-clad and public assurances that the bill would not be altered in negotiations with the House, he decided to ask for assurances directly from his Senate colleagues.
This week, the Senate is set to vote on its bill with a ban on drilling within 125 miles of Florida’s northwest coast through 2022, and a ban on drilling 235 miles west of Tampa to protect military training ranges in the Gulf of Mexico, also through 2022. Those protections have the backing of both Florida senators, Nelson and Mel Martinez.
But the House already has passed a different version that would allow state legislatures to decide whether to permit drilling just three miles off much of the nation’s coastline. For Nelson, the Senate bill is preferable to the House measure, although he believes both chambers are reacting to the oil and gas lobby’s push for expanded drilling.
Proponents argue more domestic drilling would lessen our dependence on Middle East oil and high gas prices. Nelson and others insist more oil drilling isn’t the answer. They note that America sits on just three percent of the world’s oil reserves; and, therefore, can’t possibly produce enough to have an influence on prices set globally.
“Instead of focusing on using more oil at the expense of our environment and economy, we must get serious about developing alternative fuels, like ethanol, and about making this country independent of foreign oil within ten years,” Nelson said. “And while we are embarking on a path to energy independence, we should launch a congressional investigation of oil company practices and profits.”
Over the weekend, Nelson was joined by former Florida Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham in advocating that America transition from a petroleum-driven energy policy. Writing on the editorial pages of the St. Petersburg Times, Graham said: “The debate over whether to expand domestic exploration obscures the imperative that drilling off our coasts must be regarded as the last resort, not the first resort.
“To [ become energy self-sufficient ], we would have to reduce domestic production, not increase it,” Graham said. “Such a reduction would serve as a powerful engine that accelerates conservation and the development of alternative energy sources.”