House passes bill to ban drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast

The Bradenton Herald - - Front Page - BY ALEX DAUGH­ERTY adaugh­[email protected]­clatchydc.com

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed a bill to per­ma­nently ban off­shore drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wed­nes­day, a move Florida law­mak­ers said will help the state’s tourism in­dus­try and mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions.

The bill, Protecting and Se­cur­ing Florida’s Coast­line Act, passed with a vote of 248180, with 22 Repub­li­cans join­ing 226 Democrats in fa­vor. Five Democrats and one in­de­pen­dent, along with 174 Repub­li­cans, voted against the bill. Only one of Florida’s 27 House mem­bers voted against the bill, Repub­li­can Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesvill­e.

Rep. Fran­cis Rooney, R-Naples, Florida’s most pro-en­vi­ron­ment Repub­li­can mem­ber of Congress, spon­sored the leg­is­la­tion and 12 other Florida law­mak­ers from both par­ties signed on.

“I think it’s an im­por­tant first step,” Rooney said in an interview with the Mi­ami Her­ald.

“We’re all go­ing to have to all work to­gether to con­vince Pres­i­dent Trump that this is so im­por­tant for Florida, that he’s got to sup­port us on this.”

Rooney’s bill now heads to the U.S. Se­nate, where Florida Repub­li­can Sen. Marco Ru­bio has a bill that would also ban off­shore drilling in the east­ern Gulf of Mex­ico, but only through 2027. Florida Repub­li­can Sen. Rick Scott signed onto Ru­bio’s bill yes­ter­day.

A con­gres­sional source said the White House is­sued a veto threat on Rooney’s bill be­cause the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is un­com­fort­able with a per­ma­nent ban on off­shore drilling in the east­ern Gulf of Mex­ico, though the White House is open to Ru­bio’s plan.

Rooney said a per­ma­nent ban would help sta­bi­lize the state’s fish­ing and tourism in­dus­tries. He noted that busi­ness on Florida’s west coast suf­fered af­ter the 2010 Deep­wa­ter Hori­zon oil spill, even though the en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects were mainly lim­ited to the Pan­han­dle.

“We still suf­fered a lot of eco­nomic dam­age,” Rooney said. “Fish­er­men, res­tau­rants and ho­tels had to close. In the tourism in­dus­try, per­cep­tions be­come the re­al­ity.”

The bound­ary for the pro­posed off­shore drilling ban would match the cur­rent mora­to­rium map that ex­pires in 2022. Off­shore drilling is per­mit­ted in cen­tral and west­ern por­tions of the Gulf of Mex­ico off the Texas and Louisiana coasts, and law­mak­ers in those states gen­er­ally op­pose re­stric­tions on drilling.

Un­der the cur­rent mora­to­rium, off­shore drilling on Florida’s Gulf coast is not per­mit­ted within 125 miles of the coast. Drilling is also not per­mit­ted fur­ther off­shore in por­tions of the east­ern Gulf so the mil­i­tary can use that sec­tion of the open sea for test­ing pur­poses.

Repub­li­cans out­side Florida ar­gued that the bill re­stricts op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­ergy growth.

“This leg­is­la­tion overly re­stricts off­shore ex­plo­ration and de­vel­op­ment which would elim­i­nate op­por­tu­ni­ties to cre­ate jobs, grow the econ­omy and in­crease U.S. en­ergy de­vel­op­ment to lower prices for con­sumers,” Rep. Jeff Dun­can, R-S.C., said on the House floor.

But Rooney noted that Florida Repub­li­cans have a long his­tory of op­pos­ing off­shore drilling in the east­ern Gulf of Mex­ico.

“[For­mer Sens.] Mel Mar­tinez, Con­nie Mack and [for­mer Gov.] Jeb [Bush] got this ac­com­plished un­der Ge­orge W. [Bush] and now we’re go­ing to need to have our sen­a­tors work on it,” Rooney said. “Sixty-nine per­cent of Florid­i­ans voted to ban off­shore drilling. Even where I’m from, which is a very con­ser­va­tive area, they want this off­shore drilling ban even though they fol­low Trump sig­nif­i­cantly.”

Rooney noted that the east­ern Gulf of Mex­ico is also an im­por­tant mil­i­tary test­ing site, and the ban on drilling will make bases on the Pan­han­dle an im­por­tant re­search and de­vel­op­ment re­source.

“A study the mil­i­tary did last year showed that the most in­tense test­ing go­ing for­ward is just east of that line,” Rooney said. “There’s high-tech ra­dio fre­quency work and some other kinds of clas­si­fied work go­ing on.”

He also said new off­shore drilling in Florida is less im­por­tant now that the En­ergy De­part­ment an­nounced that U.S. is set to be­come a net exporter of en­ergy in 2020. That will in­clude oil and gas ex­port­ing.

Mi­ami Demo­cratic Rep. Deb­bie Mu­carsel-Powell, who rep­re­sents the Florida Keys, said that a ban on off­shore drilling will pro­tect Florida’s coral reefs and ma­rine life.

“The Florida reef is the third-largest reef in the world and the only liv­ing coal reef in the con­ti­nen­tal United States,” Mu­carsel-Powell said in a floor speech on Tues­day. “Florida’s unique ecosys­tem is too del­i­cate to put at risk to the haz­ards of the drilling process. Off­shore drilling puts our tourism in­dus­try at risk. It is time to put the health and well-be­ing of our com­mu­nity over the greed of cor­po­rate pol­luters.”

The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives also passed a bill Wed­nes­day that pro­hibits the De­part­ment of In­te­rior from ex­pand­ing off­shore drilling into the At­lantic Outer Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf plan­ning area, which in­cludes the South At­lantic Ocean off Florida’s East Coast and the Straits of Florida to the south, along with the U.S. Pa­cific coast. Rooney was the only Repub­li­can signed on to South Carolina Demo­cratic Rep. Joe Cun­ning­ham’s bill, which passed 238-189.

GER­ALD HERBERT AP file

The U.S. House has passed leg­is­la­tion that would bar drilling in the Gulf of Mex­ico within 125 miles of the coast. Sup­port­ers of the bill say it would pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment and tourism.

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