Florida legislators suggest a state ban on offshore drilling

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Two state representatives are calling for an amendment to the Florida Constitution that would ban oil and gas drilling in state-controlled waters off the coast, and Gov. Charlie Crist said Thursday he is open to the idea.

State Reps. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, and Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, proposed a special session of the Florida Legislature to prepare a referendum that would allow voters to decide this fall whether to amend the state Constitution with a drilling ban.

Banned would be exploration, drilling, extraction and production beneath Florida waters, the two said as they stood along the beach at the Grand Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach here.

They urged that the issue be put before voters on the November ballot.

Crist’s office said the governor would consider calling a special session.

Florida law already bans drilling in state-controlled waters, but Democratic legislators want to make the ban permanent with the state’s coastlines being threatened by oil gushing from a sunken drill rig off the coast of Louisiana.

State waters extend three miles into the Atlantic Ocean and 10.35 miles into the Gulf of Mexico. Some Republican legislators have supported drilling within three miles of shore for temporary rigs and six miles for permanent rigs.

Federal law bans drilling within 125 miles of Florida, but before the Louisiana spill, Democratic President Barack Obama called for lowering that limit.

“We’re proposing to drive a stake through the heart of this particularly bad idea, and end it once and for all,” Fitzgerald said.

He went on to explain that he and Kriseman over the years have proposed a variety of bills encouraging renewable forms of energy that would lessen reliance on fossil fuels, such as oil and gas. But most have failed in the Republican-dominated legislature, he said.

He contended there is no reason why the Sunshine State cannot be a leader in renewable energy.

Already backing the proposal is state CFO and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, the two lawmakers announced at the end of the press conference.

Sink said in a press release that she has seen the BP oil spill up close.

“This evidence proves that near-beach drilling in Florida is a disastrous idea — we must never let oil companies drill just three miles off our beaches,” she said.

Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, when asked his opinion of Fitzgerald and Kriseman’s proposal, said, “I think it’s definitely got everybody’s attention now.

“I think we’ve proven we’ve got to be cautious and careful,” he added, noting that at the same time, “We can’t ignore our energy needs.”

If Crist calls a special session, Reagan added, “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Asked what chance the proposal might have, Reagan replied: “I can’t see it happening. It’s a nice publicity-getter.”

But Reagan said he might vote for a bill to put a referendum on the ballot.

“We’re talking only about what we’ve got control over, a limited area, up to 10 miles or so” in the Gulf, he said. “I would probably vote for it, at that point.”

Reagan in the past has said he is conflicted over liberalizing oil drilling, but didn’t think anything 1o0 or more miles offshore would be harmful to Florida.

State Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, said she would not support a call for a special session.

“I wouldn’t get the point of why we would hold a special session. I think we will be dealing with oil drilling next session, and by that time, we’ll have a better picture of how much is the clean-up costs, and who’s changed their minds about drilling,” she said.

“The people who visited us told us this couldn’t happen — they had shut-off valves that would automatically shut it off if there was any kind of leak,” she added. “A special session would be a waste of taxpayers’ dollars at this point.”


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