This editorial appeared in The Miami Herald.
A bill passed by the House Policy Council on Tuesday was the first crack in the heretofore impenetrable wall against oil and gas drilling off Florida's coast in the Gulf of Mexico. Supporters, however, used a stacked deck to get the job done.
Council members heard a well-prepared, carefully calibrated pitch from oil and gas officials using facts and figures, and a favorable industry-supported poll showing weakening opposition to drilling. The amendment, however, wasn't made available for the public to see until Monday night – leaving no time for real debate.
The bill (HB 1219) passed 17-6 along party lines, with Rep. Yolly Roberson, D-Miami, the only Democrat voting in favor. The bill opens a door to drilling that has been closed for 30 years. It replaces Florida's ban on drilling with a plan that allows the governor and Cabinet to accept proposals for oil and gas exploration. The state could charge $1 million for each application to explore a limited area between 3 and 10 miles offshore. Despite the bill's poor prospects – a similar measure in the Senate isn't moving – the lure of easy money during a recession should not be underestimated.
The measure represents a breach in years of solid opposition among Florida politicians, Republicans and Democrats, to offshore drilling. Even still, there is no good reason to reverse Florida's well-justified opposition to drilling. Gov. Crist should veto any measure that reaches his desk.
Support of Florida's ban on offshore drilling has slipped in recent years as the cost of gas ballooned to more than $4 per gallon. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed a law opening up drilling in the western Gulf but, because of environmental concerns for Florida's coastline, the law prohibited drilling within 100 to 125 miles off the state's coast.
To read the complete editorial, visit The Miami Herald.