Efforts to open up oil dilling off both Florida coasts could inject the issue into the race for president, and home state contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are generally supportive of more production.
Neither Republican seems receptive to legislation Sen. Bill Nelson filed to block a proposal from Gulf state lawmakers that would end the ban on drilling within a certain distance of the coast. The current prohibition, ranging from 125 miles to 235 miles, expires in 2022. Proponents, led by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., say increased drilling would create jobs.
Nelson last week declared that Florida is “under siege” and filed counter legislation.
“We’re still reviewing the bill, but Senator Rubio supports developing our domestic energy resources responsibly and effectively, including offshore drilling and oil exploration,” said Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon.
“As Governor, he worked to strike a balance between promoting and protecting different economic and state interests in Florida including tourism, energy development, and military readiness,” she added. “State leaders play a large role in decisions that impact their coastlines and they should be able to decide what is right for their citizens.
“Expanding domestic energy production is key to ensuring America’s energy security and with input from state leaders, we now have a chance to create a national energy plan to reform the leasing system to expand drilling in areas where it is safe."
Nelson has also raised fears about the Atlantic coast, where the 2022 moratorium does not apply. The Obama administration has moved to allow oil and gas explorers to conduct seismic tests off Florida’s Atlantic coast.
“It would interfere with military operations off of Jacksonville and rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and Patrick Air Force base, not to mention the environmental hazards it would pose,” Nelson recently said. “If you’re not going to drill there, then why do the seismic testing?"
Oil drilling has long been a dicey political issue in Florida, a state highly dependent on its beach economy. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a fresh reminder of what can go wrong. But the once unified stance against drilling has softened in recent years.
In 2008 then candidate Barack Obama supported the ban but then flipped positions amid soaring gas prices.
The Tampa Bay Times asked for Hillary Clinton’s views — she’s raising money in Florida today and tomorrow — and her campaign refused to answer several requests for comment.
--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times