U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is leading a bipartisan group of Florida delegation members in urging the new administration to keep offshore drilling rigs out of the eastern Gulf of Mexico and away from Florida’s coast.
In a letter today to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Nelson and others urged the administration to maintain the current moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for at least the next five years.
Earlier this month, the administration announced that they were implementing the same five-year oil and gas leasing plan as the previous administration, which would keep the moratorium in place until at least 2022. But recent reports now indicate that the administration may be considering a new plan which could open up more areas to offshore oil drilling.
“It’s our understanding that your department may be considering a new Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022,” the lawmakers wrote. “If you do choose to draft a new plan, we strongly urge you to keep the eastern Gulf off limits.”
Joining Nelson on the letter are Reps. Vern Buchanan, Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Brian Mast, Stephanie Murphy, Francis Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Daniel Webster and Frederica Wilson.
Below is the full text of the lawmakers’ letter to Zinke:
March 24, 2017
The Honorable Ryan Zinke
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Zinke,
As members of the Florida congressional delegation, we are writing to make clear our strong opposition to offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It’s our understanding that your department may be considering a new Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022. If you do choose to draft a new plan, we strongly urge you to keep the eastern Gulf off limits.
Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there.
In 2006, Congress passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy and Security Act (P.L. 109-432), which created a moratorium on drilling in most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico – including all areas east of the Military Mission Line.
It’s been nearly seven years since the Deepwater Horizon explosion fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana claimed the lives of eleven men and ruined an entire tourism season for the Gulf states. And we still don’t know the full extent of the damage done to marine life such as dolphins and sea turtles.
This tragedy was a painful reminder that Florida’s beaches and economy are at risk even when oil rigs are hundreds of miles away from its shores.
In addition to its economic value, the eastern Gulf of Mexico provides a critical testing and training range for our nation’s military – the largest such training area in the United States. For example, pilots at Eglin Air Force Base in Pensacola, Florida, use the open space to train with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.
In 2015, the Department of Defense reiterated its opposition to offshore drilling activities in this vital training area. As a former Navy SEAL, you understand the importance of ensuring that the men and women of our armed forces have access to the best training opportunities available.
We expect that as our nation’s newest Interior Secretary you will follow both the letter and the spirit of the law that currently bans drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and we strongly urge you to heed the recommendations of the Department of Defense and coastal communities by keeping offshore drilling rigs out of the area.