The U.S. Air Force agrees with Florida politicians that an existing moratorium on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico should be extended, according to a letter that Sen. Bill Nelson released to reporters Tuesday.
The current moratorium on drilling in the eastern Gulf ends in 2022, A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers backs proposed legislation extending it another five years, to 2027 -- despite President Donald J. Trump's executive order pushing for an expansion of offshore drilling.
General David L. Goldfein, the Air Force chief of staff, wrote to Nelson on June 27 to say that the Air Force "needs the certainty of the proposed extension" to guarantee that it can continue testing and training flights in that area. The largest air force base in the world, Eglin Air Force Base, is located in the Florida Panhandle, covering three counties and more than 724 square miles of land as well as 123,000 square miles into the Gulf..
Goldfein's letter comes less than two months after the Pentagon's acting under secretary of defense for defense and readiness sent a similar letter to Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz supporting an extension.
The Department of Defense "cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium,” Anthony M. Kurta wrote in the letter to Gaetz.
In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican, successfully brokered a deal to ban oil drilling off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast through most of 2022. As a result, there is currently a no-drilling zone that extends 125 miles off much of Florida’s Gulf Coast and as far as 235 miles at some points to protect vital military training areas in the eastern Gulf until June 30, 2022.
Florida's long-held opposition to offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf was bolstered by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Although the explosion and subsequent spewing of oil occurred off the coast of Louisiana, eight Florida counties wound up with oil washing up on their beaches -- in some cases, for years afterward.