A bill to open new areas off Florida’s Gulf Coast to drilling and to accelerate the timetable for doing so passed out of a U.S. Senate committee Thursday, prompting a vow from one of the state’s senators to do whatever measures possible to block it.
The legislation passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, allowing for additional areas of oil and gas exploration off America’s shores. Part of the bill dealt with drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast – and prompted the rebuke from Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Orlando.
In a one-line letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate, Nelson said, “If any measure to repeal the current moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico comes before the full Senate for a vote, I will use all available procedural options to block it.”
Currently, there’s a no-drilling zone extending 125 miles off most of the state’s Gulf coastline – and as far out as 235 miles at some points, Nelson said. That no-drilling zone is in effect until 2022.
Florida is under siege.
Sen. Bill Nelson
The Gulf measure originally came from Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana, who earlier this year introduced his Offshore Energy and Jobs Act. It would allow for drilling 50 miles off Florida’s Gulf shores and begin opening up the area sooner than the law now calls for.
His Gulf-related bill was pulled into a broader drilling bill that also addressed areas off Alaska and in the Atlantic Ocean. It passed out of committee on a 12-10 vote.
There is no indication when the legislation might be taken up by the full Senate.
The power of a solo senator to stop legislation is limited, but they do have some options – such as a filibuster – to hold up a bill and bring attention to it.
For his part, Cassidy sees the issue as one of jobs – something that would benefit Florida as well as other states.
“Florida is a part of the Gulf, and their residents should benefit from the Gulf’s natural resources,” Cassidy said in a statement. “Families across the nation, including in Florida, would hold jobs with better wages and better benefits that are created by expanding offshore energy production. I don’t understand why anyone would deny Floridians, or anyone else, access to these jobs.”
In addition to opening new areas to oil and gas production, the bill would change the way revenue from such activity is divided among the states – and thus bring new dollars to Florida.
But Nelson, who has long been active in efforts to keep rigs far off Florida’s shores, has said that the state’s environmental resources, tourist economy and military training areas are too important to allow the risks that come with drilling. Seeing it as an issue of protecting his state’s environment and natural resources, he said earlier this year that “Florida is under siege.”
“At some point, folks need to ignore Big Oil’s greed and simply do what’s right,” he said in May.
Nelson earlier this year filed a bill to keep the current drilling restrictions in place and to extend the law by five years. His approach is similar to legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.