President Obama's expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling in Florida may be good politics, but it's bad policy. Whether opposition is based on environmental concerns or an economic wisdom that says dirty beaches are bad for the tourism industry, drilling — until recently when the economy tanked — has been very unpopular among Floridians.
Mr. Obama's plan would open a swath of the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to Central Florida to drilling and push current oil and gas production in the western Gulf of Mexico eastward. Given today's realities, it may be the best of a bad situation.
Florida long enjoyed federal moratoriums on drilling in waters not even remotely close to its beaches. But as gas prices soared and an oil-friendly White House took charge in the last decade, support for a no-drilling policy for Florida has eroded, nationally and in the state. Floridians are almost equally divided now on the issue.
Hard-fought congressional battles seeking to move drilling as close as 45 miles offshore ensued. Finally, a 2006 compromise kept it 125 miles off our West Coast. But in 2008, President Bush and Congress lifted long-time drilling moratoriums in the Outer Continental Shelf. And in 2009 the Legislature tried but failed to pass a plan to allow the state to decide if drilling was permissible in exchange for a share of Big Oil's profits.
This year, the Florida House is itching to pass a bill to allow drilling a mere three miles off the coast. Fortunately, outgoing Senate President Jeff Atwater opposes it. At least Mr. Obama's plan would keep the drilling ban 125 miles from the coast.
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