U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) took to the Senate floor today to oppose the nomination of David Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist and the president’s pick for the No. 2 spot at the U.S. Department of Interior.
“There are host of reasons, from his history of censoring scientists to his denial of climate change, but I am going to limit my remarks to his allegiance to the oil industry – specifically his disregard for the importance of the moratorium on any drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” Nelson said.
Nelson cited comments Bernhardt made during his confirmation hearing in support of the president’s actions to “increase offshore production” and “ examine new leasing opportunities within the [outer continental shelf].” Nelson called those comments “very troubling.”
“During his confirmation process, [Bernhardt] gave some very troubling answers to questions about the moratorium,” Nelson said. “When it comes to the eastern Gulf, there is no good way to increase offshore production while balancing environmental concerns. … And, secondly, as I have explained time and time again, it makes no sense to drill in an area that is critically important to the United States military.”
“The top brass in the Pentagon are asking that we extend this moratorium,” Nelson continued, citing two recent letters from Pentagon officials expressing support for Nelson’s plan to extend the current moratorium beyond 2022. “We should not put someone in charge at the Department of the Interior if he has an open objection to what is obviously needed for the national security.”
Nelson, a long-time opponent of drilling near Florida’s coast, filed legislation earlier this year to extend the current moratorium for another five years, from 2022 to 2027.
Following is rush transcript of Nelson’s remarks.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
July 20, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Madam President, I want to discuss this nomination. I’m here to add my voice to my colleague whose oppose the nomination of David Bernhart to be deputy secretary of Interior.
There are host of reasons from his history of censoring scientists, to his denial of climate change, but I am going to limit my remarks to his allegiance to the oil industry, specifically his disregard for the importance of the moratorium on any drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
During his confirming process — during his confirmation process he gave some very troubling answers to questions about the moratorium from, question from the ranking member, Senator Cantwell. She asked: “Do you support the current moratorium in relation to offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico?
He responded: “I am aware that, in response to the President’s recent Executive Order on the Outer Continental Shelf, Secretary Zinke issued a Secretarial Order 3350 directing the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to review and develop a new five-year plan.”
He continues, I support the President’s and Secretary’s actions to examine new leasing opportunities within the OCS in order to advance the administration’s energy agenda.” End of quote.
Then Senator Cantwell asking, “Do you support extending this moratorium?”
He responded, quote, “I support the president’s and secretary’s actions aimed at increasing offshore production while balancing conservation objectives.” End of quote.
Madam President, first of all, when it comes to the eastern Gulf, there is no good way to increase offshore production while balancing environmental concerns. The Gulf — the eastern Gulf is still recovering from the horrific 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion which fouled the Gulf all the way east into most of the panhandle of Florida.
And secondly, as I have explained time and time again, it makes no sense to drill in an area that is critically important to the United States Military, and likewise, is the largest testing and training area for the U.S. military in the world where we are testing our most sophisticated weapon systems and where we are sending our fighter pilots that need the open space to train, and that’s why they have the training at Tyndall Air Force Base of the F-22 and that’s why they have the training for pilots on the F-35 at Eglin Air Force Base.
And so that’s also why the chief of staff of the Air Force wrote in a letter just recently, quote, “The moratorium is essential for developing and sustaining the Air Force’s future combat capabilities.” End of quote.
Now, we have two letters, and I will make them a part of the record with the permission of the chair. These letters, one from the office of the Secretary of Defense, and two, from General Golfein, the chief of staff of the Air Force, two letters that say that they are needing to put a major investment of telemetry into the eastern Gulf range for all of the sophisticated weapons systems, and they don’t want this investment of infrastructure, and then the moratorium ends in the year 2022, they want it extended for another five years to 2027.
That’s a reasonable request by the Department of Defense and the Department of the Air Force, for all the reasons.
Now, for example, you can test, starting way down in the south off of Key West, and you can shoot a cruise missile and it could all the way, 300 miles, because of the size of this test range, and then it could have a land impact on Eglin Air Force Base. That is part of our testing regime.
So you say, well, why couldn’t the cruise missile weave around oil rig activities? Well, look at the new miniature cruise missiles that are out there, not one, but a swarm that takes up a big footprint that we are testing. These are the kinds — and this is just one example of a weapons system that you need lots of open space and his is a national asset. We don’t want to give it up.
And that’s why the top brass in the Pentagon are asking that we extend this moratorium so they can make those expensive investments in the telemetry.
So we should not put someone in charge at the Department of the Interior if he has an open objection to what is obviously needed for the national security and if he has such a demonstrated history of siding just with special interest, which would be a bad decision when it comes to the national security of this country.
And so for all of these reasons, I am going to oppose the nomination, buts that just one reason — but that’s just one reason — one item on an ever-growing list of concerns that this senator with the Department of Interior these days.
On June 29 Secretary Zinke announced that they were seeking a new-five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing. And unless anyone forgets, the current five-year plan was just finalized six months ago and it’s supposed to run through 2022.
So why is the department now going to spend more taxpayer money going through the whole process all over again? And the only reason that this senator can see is that the oil industry wants more acreage. They are going after the eastern Gulf of Mexico despite the fact that the Department of Defense is asking for exactly the opposite.
By the way, you ought to take in the very productive sections of the Gulf of Mexico off of Louisiana. There are acres and acres under lease, but you ought to see of all those acres under lease how much of those are actually drilled and or in production. It’s a small percentage of the acreage under lease that is actually drilled.
So why don’t we take advantage of the existing leases, particularly in the central Gulf, which is where the oil is, because that’s where all — that’s where all of the sediments over millions of years came down the Mississippi river, settled in what is today in the Gulf the earth’s crust compacted it and made it into oil and that’s where the oil is.
Now, remember also out in the eastern Gulf, the area off limits, the Eastern Test and Training Range. The Gulf Eastern Test and Training Range. The Air Force wants to extend that moratorium from 2022, 5 years, out to 2027 protect it for all of these reasons that we have been discussing here. And it’s all that open space we ought not give it up.
I’ll give you another example of the short memories over at the Department of Interior. After the 2010 BP oil spill it became clear the relationship between the regulators and the oil industry, it was a problem. So the mineral management service was divided into two separate agencies in the Department of Interior. The bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which regulates lease sales, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which is supposed to ensure safety standards are followed. And then less than a decade later people seem to have forgotten all of that, and they want to put the two back together again. That’s another example of what’s going on.
Not only that, but the administration is trying to roll back the safety rules, like the well-controlled rule that was finalized in November of last year, this long overdue rule seeks to prevent what went so tragically wrong on the Deep Water Horizon rig. It attempts to prevent it from ever happening again.
And every day it seems like the administration is coming up with a new way to put the Gulf at risk, and Florida’s coastline and tourism-driven economy at risk. And now putting at risk the national security of the country by messing up the largest testing and training range for the United States military in the world.
It’s utilized by all branches of service. As a matter of fact, when they closed down the Atlantic fleet of the navy from doing all of its training off of Puerto Rico at the island of Vieques, all that training came to the gulf. The squadrons, Navy squadrons come down for two weeks at a time to Key West Naval Air Station, the airport actually being on Boca Chica Key, and when they lift off on the runway, those F-18’s within two minutes they’re in restricted airspace so they don’t have to spend a lot of time and fuel to get to their training area.
I’ve heard from business owners, I’ve heard from residents across the entire state of Florida. They don’t want drilling in the eastern Gulf. They saw what can happen when the inevitable spill happens. We lose an entire season of tourism, and all that revenue goes away along with that loss.
Why do they know that? Well, the BP spill was off of Louisiana, but the winds then started carrying the oil slicks to the east. It got as far east as Pensacola beach, and the white sugary sands of Pensacola were covered in black oil. That was the photograph that went around the world. The winds continued to push it, and tar mats got over and on the beach at Destin. We were desperately trying to keep the oil out of going into Choctawhatchee Bay at Destin like it had already gone into Pensacola Bay at Pensacola. And then the winds kept pushing it to the east, and the tar balls ended up all over the tourism beaches of Panama City. And then the winds did us a favor. They reversed, and they started taking it back to the west.
So oil on some of the beaches, but what happened? For an entire year tourist season, the tourists didn’t come to the Gulf beaches not only in northwest Florida, but all down the peninsula, all the way down to Marco Island. And they lost an entire tourist season.
That’s why people are so upset about any messing around. And this senator brings to us, as I have spoken of what has happened, as I have stood up for the last four decades to fight to prevent those kind of spills from happening again off of the state of Florida, but now we have right here an issue in front of us something that could threaten the Department of Defense’s mission for being ready to protect this nation. And in that case my recommendation to the Senate is not to vote for this nomination for Deputy Secretary of the Interior because of his history in the past, but also how he responded to Senator Cantwell in the committee.
Madam President, I yield the floor.