Senate leaders pledge Florida will be protected from oil, gas rigs
July 27, 2006
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Bill Nelson said Thursday he’s received assurances from Senate leaders that any offshore drilling compromise with the House will include – in the words of Majority Leader Bill Frist – “adequate protections to the State of Florida.”
Pledges from both Frist, a Republican, and Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, came after Nelson had sought public assurances the lawmakers would block a House-Senate compromise on oil drilling legislation that would weaken protections for Florida contained in the Senate bill.
The Senate is considering passage of a bill that includes a 125-mile no-drilling zone off Florida’s Panhandle, through 2022, and a 235-mile no-drilling zone off much of Florida’s Gulf coast, also through 2022. These were protections sought by Nelson and Florida’s other Senator Mel Martinez. The House, on the other hand, has passed a markedly different bill that allows drilling off all coastal states as close as three miles from shore, if a state legislature agrees to it.
When the House and Senate pass such widely divergent bills, negotiators usually are appointed to work out a compromise. The concern of Nelson, and many others, has been that House negotiators, to be led by pro-drilling advocate Rep. Richard Pombo, would drastically change the Senate bill, including weakening the ban on drilling protections in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Nelson sought assurances – via his amendment or an agreement from the Senate leadership – that the Senate would not cave into the House.
In response, Frist’s staff sent Nelson’s office an e-mail late Wednesday that said, "I will not bring a bill back before the Senate that does not provide adequate protections to the State of Florida. I look forward to working with both Florida senators to achieve this goal."
In addition, Reid wrote Nelson a letter on Wednesday saying he will deliver the votes necessary to sustain a Nelson-led filibuster of legislation if it is “modified” in a conference committee. “If the House does not accept the Senate bill as passed, I will join other senators and Senator Nelson and produce the votes to sustain a filibuster to prevent the passage of the bill when it would return to the Senate.”
Also Wednesday, Martinez announced he would oppose any attempts to weaken the protections for Florida. On the Senate floor yesterday, Martinez vowed, “I would like to make it clear that this is not an opening for negotiation. I am firmly committed to this deal. Anything else that subtracts from the protections for our state as laid out in this legislation is not enough for our state. This is it.”
Based on those statements and the assurances of Senate leadership, Nelson on Thursday morning announced he intends to vote for the Senate version of the bill.
“Senator Frist told me he would do everything within his ability to keep it [ a compromise ] to the Senate version, when the bill returns to the Senate,” Nelson said. “We’ve worked for over a year to make sure this bill protects Florida’s tourism-driven economy and its unique environment as well as U.S. military training ranges off Florida’s west coast.”