Following is statement from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) on the Trump administration’s plan to open up nearly all federal waters to offshore oil drilling – including the eastern Gulf of Mexico and areas off Florida’s Atlantic coast:
“This plan is an assault on Florida’s economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment. This proposal defies all common sense and I will do everything I can to defeat it.”
Nelson, a long-time opponent of allowing oil rigs too close to Florida’s coast, often cites the state’s unique environment, its multi-billion dollar, tourism-driven economy and the vital national military training areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico as reasons why drilling should not be allowed near Florida’s shores.
- In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez successfully brokered a deal to ban drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast through the year 2022.
- In Jan. 2017, Nelson filed legislation to extend that moratorium for an additional five years, to 2027. [Text of the legislation is available here.]
- In April 2017, the day before President Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to open up new areas to offshore oil drilling, Nelson and others filed legislation to block the Trump administration from opening up any additional areas to offshore oil drilling until at least 2022. [Text of that legislation is available here.]
- Last month, amid rumors that the Interior Department was preparing to unveil the proposal released today, Nelson took to the Senate floor to urge his colleagues to take up and pass the legislation he and others filed in April to block the agency from implementing this new plan.[Video of Nelson’s speech is available here.]
Following is a recent Tampa Bay Times editorial on the issue:
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling
Published: Dec.13, 2017
Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With the White House reportedly poised to move ahead to advance drilling, Congress should send a strong message that it intends to protect the environment, public health and the nation’s military readiness while encouraging the energy industry’s continuing pivot toward cleaner, more sustainable power sources.
Nelson issued the call Tuesday amid concern the administration plans to announce a new, five-year oil and gas leasing plan that would open up the entirety of the Atlantic coast to drilling. Nelson said the plan would go into effect in 2019, replacing the current five-year plan that’s not scheduled to expire until 2022.
Nelson’s speech on the Senate floor is his latest response to the directive Trump issued in April, ordering the Interior Department to review an Obama-era plan that limited drilling in areas of the Arctic and southeast Atlantic between 2017 and 2022. Trump ordered the department to consider revising the current schedule of oil and gas lease sales in the outer continental shelf with an eye toward maximizing production activity in the Alaska regions, the southern and mid Atlantic and the western and central Gulf of Mexico.
While the eastern gulf is still protected by a congressional agreement in 2006 that bars drilling within 125 miles of the Panhandle and 230 miles of Tampa Bay, drilling in the central gulf could still endanger Florida. That’s why Florida’s Democratic senator sought to pre-empt the president earlier this year with legislation that would block any new areas for offshore drilling until at least 2022. Nelson also filed legislation to extend the existing ban in the eastern gulf for an additional five years, to 2027. The Pentagon, in a letter to Congress this year, said a lid on offshore operations in the gulf was essential to preserving U.S. military training operations in the area. The Pentagon “cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium,” the Defense Department said.
Opening new areas in the Atlantic and gulf to drilling only seven years after the BP oil disaster ignores the lessons the nation learned from one of the worst environmental crises in U.S. history. Oil spilled off the coast of Louisiana poured onto the beaches of Florida, tainting eight Panhandle counties and dealing a serious blow to the state’s tourism industry. And all of this devastation rained across the gulf despite assurances by the biggest oil companies that they could contain a spill and the environmental and economic fallout. That wasn’t the case, and states and counties are still years if not decades away from accounting for the full impact of the spill.
Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans need to add their voices to Nelson’s call to maintain the moratorium and extend the protections in the gulf for America’s military mission. The industry’s move to cleaner, renewable and more affordable energy sources is a shift that needs to continue. Allowing new drilling would give the industry a nose under the tent to push for new offshore leases that will only threaten the coasts. This effort is a threat to Florida’s economy and the natural beauty that attracts tourists from around the world.
Floridians have consistently made clear that protecting natural resources is a priority. Nelson’s legislation would give that public sentiment the force of law, and it deserves bipartisan support.