In response to an appeals court’s ruling to allow oil drilling in the Everglades, overturning a decision by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to deny a company a permit for the practice, Senator José Javier Rodríguez issued the following statement: [Read more…] about Statement from Senator José Javier Rodríguez on Potential Oil Drilling in the Everglades
Friday marks eight years since 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster
U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and others filed legislation today to codify two key offshore drilling safety rules put in place after the 2010 BP oil spill.
Specifically, the legislation would codify the “Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule” and the “Arctic Drilling Rule,” both of which were finalized and put in place under the Obama administration in 2016 to address key safety recommendations made after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The move to make the regulations law comes as the Trump administration, at the behest of the oil industry, seeks to roll back many of the safety requirements put in place after the 2010 spill.
“Today, from 2010 to 2018 – eight years later – the oil industry is trying to roll back those safety requirements that were put in place in the aftermath of spilling five-million barrels of oil into the Gulf,” Nelson said on the Senate floor today. “We can’t allow the Department of Interior to take us backwards in time and expose our beautiful beaches and our tourism-based local economies, as well as our military, to another Deepwater Horizon-type catastrophe.”
Each rule contains several safety regulations aimed at preventing another massive oil spill from occurring. For example, the “Outer Continental Shelf Blowout Preventer Systems and Well Control Rule” increased design and maintenance standards for blowout preventers, required real-time monitoring of deep-water wells and high-pressure drilling activities, and improved safety standards by requiring drillers to have a mechanism that allows the drill pipe to be properly sheared.
The “Arctic Drilling Rule” sets safety and emergency response standards for offshore drilling in arctic environments. For example, the rule requires operators to have a specialized response plan and containment equipment specifically tailored to the icy weather conditions in the arctic.
If approved, the legislation Nelson and Cantwell filed today would make the regulations law and prevent the administration from rolling them back without Congressional approval.
A copy of the legislation is available here.
Video of Nelson’s speech on the Senate floor earlier today is available here.
Following is a transcript of his remarks:
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
April 19, 2018
Sen. Nelson: Tomorrow marks another somber occasion, as well, because eight years ago the news ticker came across our television saying that an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was on fire. The Coast Guard was on the scene and workers were missing.
It was a Tuesday night. It was nearly midnight on April 20, 2010. By morning light we knew that 11 men would not be going home again. For 87 days oil gushed into one of the most productive marine environments in the world.
The study showed that the oil impacted the deep water corals and the fish at the bottom of the food chain, all the way from the bottom up to the dolphins and sea turtles at the top. Here is just one example, Madam President – this is in one of the bayous. You can see the marsh grasses in the distance. You can see the oil as it’s coming up, and it’s just literally covering everything.
They did studies on fish that would be in a bayou like this. A little fish that’s about as big as this, it’s called the killi fish. LSU professors did this study and they compared them to the bayous where there was not this kind of oil. Compared it to similar killi fish. What they found over time is the little fish in bayous like this, they were stunted. They didn’t reproduce. They mutated. It’s because of this, nearly five million barrels of oil gushed for three months. And a lot of it is still out there. Some of it’s down at the bottom where that well was in that well head on the sea floor below the rig. It’s a mile deep. We worked as one Gulf community, in a bipartisan way.
We passed legislation – it was called the Restore Act – to send a message that there were going to be fines and penalties. Under the Clean Water Act, so many barrels of oil, a figure and then the culpability of the oil company that allowed it to happen. A federal judge did and extended a trial over several years and came up with that fine and that penalty.
And that Restore Act said that that money that was going to be assessed against the oil company, it was going back to the Gulf of Mexico region. And it was going to aid in the economy and in the environment. And when you have this kind of impact, you can’t imagine, but there was another impact. The winds caught that oil slick and started sending it east from Louisiana. And it got over to the white sugary sands of Pensacola Beach and Destin and tar balls as far east as Panama City Beach. But the photographs of Pensacola Beach completely covered in tar and oil. And those photographs went around the world. And what was the result? Our guests, our visitors, our tourists for an entire season thought the beaches of all of the Gulf of Mexico beaches on Florida were covered like Pensacola Beach was, and they didn’t come for an entire year.
So, not only did you have an environmental effect like this, you had an economic effect like the loss of tourist revenue and the hotels and the motels and the restaurants and the dry cleaners, and the little newspapers, and all the ancillary businesses that depend upon a $60 billion a year tourism industry in Florida. And still I’m afraid that the oil industry hopes that we have all forgotten all of this.
This month, the media released documents from 2016 in which BP claims that an oil spill can be a welcome boost to local economies. Can you believe that? This oil spill was in 2010. And in 2016 we have just uncovered documents that BP claimed that an oil spill can be, quote, “a welcome boost to local economies.” End of quote. How outrageous and how arrogant a statement.
I can assure you that the coastal communities of Florida vigorously disagree, and I bet you the coastal communities that had to put up with that in their bayous would disagree vigorously as well. All that progress, and yet the industry is relentless in wanting to take us backwards. They still want to open up Florida’s beaches and offshore to drilling.
And we have to fight it every day.
One thing that we also have going for us is the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida is the largest testing and training area for the United States Military in the world.
This senator just climbed into an Air Force jet to fly part of the training profile for young pilots knowing that they have restricted airspace. That was out of Tyndall, out of Eglin Air Force Base – the testing and training designee for all of the Department of Defense. We have a range that goes from the panhandle of Florida all the way south in the Gulf of Mexico off of Key West. In one angle shot, they can shoot sophisticated long-range weapons 600 miles to do the testing.
And Big Oil is trying to roll back now some of the basic safety rules that were put in place after the disaster to prevent another tragedy. It’s happening in front of our eyes.
So, two years ago they say that an oil spill can be a welcome boost to the local economies, and today they are rolling back safety environments that were put in place in the aftermath of 11 people being killed on the Deepwater oil rig.
Today, they are rolling that back – in this administration’s agencies. That’s why I’m joining Senator Cantwell and other colleagues today in filing legislation to codify these sensible safety measures, like those designed to update the standards for blowout preventers and a requirement for a third party to certify the safety mechanisms.
Let me explain what a blowout preventer is. It didn’t work in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A mile below the surface, the wellhead where it comes out of the Earth, there is a thing called a blowout preventer. So a blowout in this Deepwater Horizon, there is a blowout that was supposed to safely cut the oil line, pinch it, and stop it from flowing. It was faulty. It did not work. And so there have been new standards for blowout preventers.
And today, from 2010 to 2018, eight years later the oil industry is trying to roll back those safety requirements that were put in place in the aftermath of spilling five million barrels of oil into the Gulf.
You see, the fight that we have almost every week. We can’t allow the Department of Interior to take us backwards in time and expose our beautiful beaches and our tourism-based local economies as well as our military to another Deepwater Horizon-type catastrophe. And if we don’t watch it and if they keep pushing back these safety rules, and that’s the purpose of filing this legislation today with Senator Cantwell.
If we don’t watch it, we’re going to be right back in the same place we were eight years ago. Eight years ago, to the day tomorrow, that we had that all of experience.
Madam president, I yield the floor.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) today urged his colleagues to take up and pass legislation he and others filed earlier this year to block the Trump administration from opening up additional areas to offshore oil drilling until at least 2022.
The move comes amid reports that the Trump administration is planning to unveil a new five-year oil and gas leasing plan that would open up the entire Atlantic coast to drilling. This new five-year plan, which would go into effect in 2019, would replace the current five-year plan not set to expire until 2022.
“The Trump administration is about to give a huge early Christmas present to the oil industry,” Nelson said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “The Department of Interior is preparing to unveil a new five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing – one that would open up the entire Atlantic coast.”
In April, Trump signed an executive order directing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to open up new areas to offshore drilling by altering the current five-year oil and gas leasing plan that took effect earlier this year and doesn’t expire until 2022. In response, Nelson and others filed legislation that would prohibit Zinke from making any changes to the current five-year plan before it expires.
“I urge our colleagues to take up the bill filed earlier this year … that would block an attempt by the administration to open our coasts to oil drilling.” Nelson said. “The stakes are extremely high for the economies of our states.”
Nelson, a long-time opponent of having 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 as reasons why drilling should not be allowed near Florida’s coast.
In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez successfully brokered a deal to ban drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast through the year 2022. Nelson filed legislation earlier this year to extend that ban an additional five years, to 2027.
“Why is the Department of Interior in such a rush?,” Nelson said. “Because the oil industry wants to start drilling in these areas now, and the Trump administration is going to let them do it.”
Full text of the legislation Nelson filed earlier this year can be found here.
Video of Nelson’s speech on the Senate floor today is available here.
Here’s a rush transcript of his remarks:
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
December 12, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, there are all kinds of reports swirling around Washington, and we’re hearing those reports that the Trump administration is about to give a huge early Christmas present to the oil industry, because the reports are that the Department of the Interior is preparing to unveil a new five-year plan for offshore oil and gas drilling, one that would open up the entire Atlantic coast of the United States to drilling.
This new five-year plan, which would go into effect in 2019, would replace the current five-year plan which was finalized last year and doesn’t expire until 2022. So why is the Department of Interior in such a rush to waste taxpayers’ money to write a new one? Because the answer is because the oil industry wants to start drilling in these areas now, and the Trump administration is going to let them do it.
While it hasn’t been released yet, we are hearing that the administration’s new plan will open up the entire Atlantic coast to offshore drilling from Maine as far south as Cape Canaveral.
But, Mr. President, let me show you why that’s a problem. This is the east coast of the United States. This is Maine. This is Florida. This is Cape Canaveral. This is Fort Pierce, Florida. Look what happens in the Atlantic coast off of the eastern continental United States. These are all military testing areas. Every one of these hatched areas — every one of these blocks — are places that have limited access because of military testing.
So take, for example, all of this area off the east coast of Florida. There’s a place called Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. There’s a place called the Kennedy Space Center. We are launching commercial and military rockets, and within another year and a half we will be launching rockets, American rockets with American astronauts that, just like the space shuttle before them, will go to and from the International Space Station carrying crew as well as the cargo that it already carries.
Well, when you’re launching it to the International Space Station, or in two years we launch the largest rocket ever from the Kennedy Space Center, the forerunner to the Mars program, taking humans to Mars, where do you think the first stages, or in the case of the new mars rocket called the SLS, the Space Launch System, where do you think it drops its Solid Rocket Boosters? Precisely. Out here, which is exactly why you can’t have oil rigs out here.
Where do you think that all of the commercial rockets coming out of Cape Canaveral right now that put up the host of communication satellites, that is a constellation of satellites, how do you think we get our pinpoint GPS here on earth? Many of those rockets are coming right out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and increasingly, the commercial activity at the Kennedy Space Center, which is located with the Cape Canaveral air force station.
Or what about all of those scientific satellites that are out there that give us precise measurements on what’s happening to the climate so that when we then track hurricanes, we know precisely and have such great success in predicting the path and the ferocity of a hurricane. All of those rockets are coming out of Cape Canaveral, and they have first stages. And when the first stages burn out, they have to fall someplace. You can’t have oil and gas production out here.
And so the same would be off of Norfolk, Virginia. They also have a launching point there for NASA –Wallops Island — but in the Norfolk area, all of the military that does its training out in the Atlantic, you’re going to have a whole disruption.
Or take, for example, all of the military assets — spy satellites that go into orbit rocketed out of Cape Canaveral, those first stages when burned out have to fall. And that’s why you have a location like Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launching from west to east to get that extra boost of the earth’s rotation. Therefore, less fuel to get to orbit. This is the prime location.
You can’t put oil and gas out here. You can’t have oil rigs off of Cape Canaveral where all of these military NASA and commercial rockets as well as governmental payloads that are not military are going.
So we have heard the loud opposition of the department of defense, chambers of commerce, fishermen and coastal communities all along the Atlantic who weighed in against the administration’s plan to allow drilling off their coast.
We thought we had put this puppy to bed last year when the Obama administration backed off its plans to have these drilling areas. They backed off because of the opposition. They also backed off when it came to Florida. Why? Florida has more beaches than any other state. We don’t have as much coastline. Alaska has the greatest coastline. But last time I checked, Alaska didn’t have a lot of beaches. The one that is blessed with the beautiful beaches is Florida. And when it comes to beaches, that means people want to go to the beach. That means there is a significant tourism-driven economy.
Well, we learned what happened when just the threat of oil on the beach — remember the Deep Water Horizon oil explosion off of Louisiana? Let me show you so that you don’t get confused with all these colors, but in essence all of this yellow over on the other side of Florida, the Gulf of Mexico, this area is off limits and it’s in law. And it’s a good thing, because when the deep water horizon spilled off of Louisiana and the wind shifted, and that oil started drifting to the east, and it got as far as Pensacola Beach, and it completely blackened the white sugary sands. And that photograph went all over the world. Pensacola beach is covered up in oil, and the winds kept carrying it forward, and some of it got into Choctawhatchee Bay and the sands of Destin and got as far east as some of the tar balls in Panama City Beach. And then the winds shifted and carried it back. That was the extent of the oil on the beach.
But for one solid year, a tourist year, the tourists did not come to the west coast of Florida because they had seen those pictures of what had happened to Pensacola Beach. All the way down the west coast the Tampa Bay area, the Sarasota, the Fort Myers area, the Naples, Marco Island, the tourists did not come.
And, so, when it comes to Florida, now let’s go back to the Atlantic. You start to do this, you are now threatening the lifeblood of Florida’s economy, its tourism-driven economy. It’s not only a threat to the environment, but it’s a threat to the multibillion-dollar tourism-driven economy.
And so we lost in 2010 an entire season that the tourists did not come to the west coast of Florida. And so that’s why when I gave the list of all those entities, including the U.S. Department of Defense, they don’t want it because of the military areas.
But I also said chambers of commerce. Well, they have awakened to the fact that oil on beaches is a killer of our economy. And thus, it’s not unusual that you will start to see local governments, when this plan is announced later today probably, you will see local governments spring into action, like the Broward County Board of Commissioners has already sent letters opposing drilling off of Florida’s coast.
Floridians understand this issue. That’s why in the past we’ve had such bipartisan agreement all over Florida. Republicans and Democrats alike to keep drilling off of our coast.
But if Big Oil gets its way, every inch of the outer continental shelf is going to be drilled. We saw what happened less than a decade ago, and the scientists would say that we’re still uncovering, for example, the full extent of that BP oil spill and its damage.
So I urge our colleagues to take up the bill filed earlier this year with this senator, Senator Markey and others, that would block an attempt by the administration to open up our coasts to oil drilling.
The stakes are extremely high for the economy of our states all along the eastern coast. Georgia has a substantial tourism-driven economy. You know South Carolina does: Myrtle Beach. What about North Carolina? What about Virginia’s tourism-driven economy? But especially all the military concentration there. And you could go right on up the coast.
Mr. President, the stakes are exceptionally high. We simply can’t risk it.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.
UPDATE: Sen. Nelson spoke briefly on the Senate floor this evening about the letter his office obtained today from the Pentagon. You can watch video of Nelson’s remarks here:
The Pentagon says maintaining the current moratorium on oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico beyond 2022 is “essential for developing and sustaining our nation’s future combat capabilities.”
“The Department of Defense (DoD) cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium,” Anthony M. Kurta, the acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, wrote in a letter to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
The letter obtained today by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson’s office was sent just days before the president signed an executive order to expand offshore oil and gas drilling.
Nelson, a long-time opponent of drilling near Florida’s coast, often argues in Senate debates that attempts to expand offshore drilling could threaten our nation’s military readiness by disrupting military weapons testing and training in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2006, he and then-Sen. Mel Martinez 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.
Earlier this year, Nelson filed legislation to extend the moratorium for another five years, from 2022 to 2027.
It’s not the first time the Pentagon has weighed in on the oil-and-gas drilling issue. In 2005, at the request of Nelson, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said legislation that would allow drilling closer to Florida’s coast is “incompatible with military [testing and training] activities” in the Gulf of Mexico.
Below is a copy of the letter sent to Rep. Gaetz. A PDF is available here. And a PDF copy of the 2005 Rumsfeld letter is available here.
The Honorable Matt Gaetz
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Representative Gaetz:
Thank you for your letter dated March 24, 2017, regarding maintaining the moratorium on oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico beyond 2022. Since military readiness falls under my purview, I have been asked to respond to your letter on behalf of the Secretary of Defense. The Department of Defense (DoD) cannot overstate the vital importance of maintaining this moratorium.
National security and energy security are inextricably linked and the DoD fully supports the development of our nation’s domestic energy resources in a manner that is compatible with military testing, training, and operations. As mentioned in your letter, the complex of eastern Gulf of Mexico operating areas and warning areas provides critical opportunities for advanced weapons testing and joint training exercises. The moratorium on oil and gas “leasing, pre leasing, and other related activities” ensures that these vital military readiness activities may be conducted without interference and is critical to their continuation. Emerging technologies such as hypersonics, autonomous systems, and advanced sub-surface systems will require enlarged testing and training footprints, and increased DoD reliance on the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act’s moratorium beyond 2022. The moratorium is essential for developing and sustaining our nation’s future combat capabilities .
Since signing the 1983 “Memorandum of Agreement Between the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior on Mutual Concerns on the Outer Continental Shelf,” the two departments have worked cooperatively to ensure offshore resource development is compatible with military readiness activities. During recent discussions between the DoD and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a question arose concerning whether Congress intended the moratorium to prohibit even geological and geophysical survey activities in the eastern Gulf. We would welcome clarification from Congress concerning this matter.
On behalf of the Secretary, I appreciate your interest in sustaining our testing and training activities in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Performing the Duties of the Undersecretary of
Defense for Personnel and Readiness
Sen. Bill Nelson today sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross strongly urging the new administration to keep oil and gas drilling away from the Florida Keys.
Nelson’s letter comes in response to an executive order the president signed Friday ordering the Department of the Interior to determine how many energy and mineral resources are available in designated national marine sanctuaries, such as the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Nelson, who filed legislation last week that would block the Interior Secretary from opening additional areas to offshore drilling until at least 2022, cited the significant environmental and economic impact that drilling in the Florida Keys sanctuary would have on Florida.
“Against clear congressional intent, the president’s Executive Order directs your departments to tally the oil and minerals contained in national marine sanctuaries like the Florida Keys,” Nelson wrote. “Seismic testing and other preleasing drilling activities directly conflict with the laws that created the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and I strongly urge you to refrain from allowing any oil and gas activities in the Florida Keys.”
Below is the full text of Nelson’s letter, and here is a signed PDF copy.
May 1, 2017
The Honorable Wilbur Ross
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20230
The Honorable Ryan Zinke
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Zinke and Secretary Ross,
I am gravely concerned that the Presidential Executive Order issued Friday, April 28th, represents a significant economic and environmental threat to Florida—and it violates both the spirit and the text of the law regarding National Marine Sanctuaries.
The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) is a gem among many in Florida’s tourism-based economy, generating $4.4 billion in annual revenue for the local community and supporting over 70,000 jobs. It is home to over 6000 species of marine life, the third largest living coral barrier reef system in the world, and an estimated 1,000 shipwrecks. Fourteen historic sites in Florida Keys NMS are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This area is of such national importance that in response to environmental threats, including oil drilling, Congress designated the Florida Keys as a National Marine Sanctuary in 1990 “to protect and preserve living and other resources of the Florida Keys marine environment.”
Against clear congressional intent, the president’s Executive Order directs your departments to tally the oil and minerals contained in national marine sanctuaries like the Florida Keys—presumably by using seismic air gun blasts in some of the most sensitive and important habitats in our ocean.
Seismic testing and other preleasing drilling activities directly conflict with the laws that created the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and I strongly urge you to refrain from allowing any oil and gas activities in the Florida Keys.
Sen. Bill Nelson took to the Senate floor today vowing to fight any attempt by the administration to open up additional areas around Florida to offshore oil drilling.
“Drilling off of Florida’s neighboring states poses a real threat to our state’s environment and our multibillion-dollar tourism industry,” Nelson said. “That’s because a spill off the coast of Louisiana can end up on the beaches of Northwest Florida just like a spill off the coast of Virginia or South Carolina can affect the entire Atlantic coast.”
Nelson’s remarks come as the president is expected to sign an executive order Friday expanding offshore oil drilling.
“This announcement by the president will be like a big present for the oil companies,” Nelson said. “I hope the president thinks twice before putting Florida’s economy at such a risk. I hope he refrains from issuing this executive order, but if he doesn’t, this senator and a bipartisan delegation from Florida will fight this order.”
Below is a rush transcript of Nelson’s remarks, and here’s a link to watch video of his speech: https://youtu.be/EXb5ubQrxVE.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate Floor
April 26, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I want to address the senate on the occasion of the solemn memorial of seven years since the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the resulting oil spill and the tragedy of killing a number of workers.
It was 11 men were killed. It fouled the sensitive Gulf ecosystem in ways that we still do not fully realize, and yet we are hearing today that the president is expected to issue an executive order that ignores the implications of that tragedy which was also the largest environmental disaster in US history by this new executive order blindly encouraging more drilling in very sensitive areas.
Mr. President, I can tell you that drilling off of Florida’s neighboring states poses a real threat to our state’s environment and our multibillion-dollar tourism industry, and that’s because a spill off the coast of Louisiana can end up on the beaches of northwest Florida just like a spill off the coast of Virginia or South Carolina can affect the entire Atlantic coast.
BP, as a result of the Deepwater Horizon, agreed to pay more than $20 billion in penalties to clean up the 2010 oil spill and repay Gulf residents for lost revenue.
But apparently that wasn’t enough if BP’s recent spill in Alaska is any other indication.
So we shouldn’t be surprised since oil companies and their friends have fought against any new safety standards or requirements. And still the president wants to open up additional waters to drilling despite the fact that we haven’t applied lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon.
It is certainly at a time when the United States has been able to find all new reserves of oil and gas onshore. So we are not in a time of shortage of discovery and reserves of oil, and especially what is being affected, our domestic energy market with the low price of natural gas since so much of it and the reserves are just tremendous here in the continental US.
The most visible change since the deep water horizon, the division of the Minerals and Management Service into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, all of those changes made as a result to try to improve things after the BP spill, it doesn’t seem to have made any major improvements in oversight, and that’s according to a report issued by the GAO this last month.
So I’ve come to the floor to try to alert other senators about the importance of preserving the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. It makes no sense to put Florida’s multibillion-dollar tourism-driven economy at risk.
And there’s something else at risk. The department of defense has stated numerous times — I have two letters from two Republicans, secretaries of defense, that says that drilling and oil related activities are incompatible with our military training and weapons testing. That is the area known as the Gulf training range. It’s the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida. It is the largest testing and training range for the United States military in the world.
Now in that Gulf training range is where the pilots for the F-22 are trained. That’s at Tyndall Air Force base. And it’s where the new F-35, the pilots are trained, by the way, not only for the United States, but also for many foreign nations that their countries have bought the f-35.
Of course that’s essential to our national security. And that’s just pilot training. That doesn’t speak of the testing over hundreds and hundreds of miles because it is restricted airspace of some of our most sophisticated weapons.
And, oh, by the way, when the US Navy Atlantic fleet shut down on our training in Puerto Rico and the island of Vieques, where do you think that a lot of that training came to? The navy still has to train, so they’ll send their squadrons down to Key West naval air station at Boca Chicas Key, and when those pilots and their F-18 Hornets lift off the runway within two minutes they’re out over the Gulf of Mexico in restricted airspace, so they don’t spend a lot of fuel and a lot of time to get there. And so that’s why a lot of our colleagues across the state of Florida, across the aisle — in other words, this is bipartisan — have weighed in with this administration urging continued protection for the largest military testing and training area in the world. Opposition to drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is bipartisan. It’s the Senate and House — bipartisan. But so is our opposition to drilling off the Atlantic coast.
Now let me just distinguish between the two. Years ago, my then-republican colleague, Senator Mel Martinez, and I both authored in law an exemption until the year 2022 of any oil drilling off of the coast of Florida. It’s actually everything east of what is called the Military Mission Line, and it’s virtually the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida. And of course we did that for the reasons that I’ve already stated that’s in law up until 2022.
But the administration will be coming forth with another plan for the five-year period for oil drilling offshore for the years 2023 up through 2028. It is my hope that the words of this senator and the words of our bipartisan colleagues from the Florida delegation will convince the administration that it’s not wise to impede the military’s unnecessary training and testing area, not even to speak of the tremendous economic deprivation that will come as a result of an oil spill.
And just think back to the BP spill. Think back to the time when the beaches, the sugary white sands of Pensacola Beach, they, in fact, were completely covered with oil. That picture, a very notable picture, a contrast of the black oil on top of the white sand, that picture went around the world. The winds started blowing — this is the oil from the BP off Louisiana. The wind started to continue to blow it to the east. And so some of the oil got in Pensacola Bay. Some of the oil started to get into Choctawhatchee Bay. Some got on the beautiful beaches of Destin and Fort Walton Beach. The winds took it as far east as the Panama City beaches. There they received basically tar balls on the beach.
And then the winds reversed and started taking it back to the west. So none of the other beaches all the way down the coast of Florida, Clearwater, St. Petersburg on down to the beaches off Bradenton and off of Sarasota and Fort Myers and Naples and all the way down to Marco Island, none of those beaches received the oil because the wind didn’t keep blowing it that way.
But the entire west coast of Florida lost an entire tourist season because our guests, our visitors, the tourists, they didn’t come because they had seen those pictures. And they thought that oil was on all of our beaches.
Let me tell you how risky that had been. There is in the Gulf of Mexico something known as the loop current. It comes through the separation of the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and the western end of Cuba. It goes up into the gulf and then it loops and comes south in the gulf. It hugs the Florida Keys. It becomes the Gulf Stream that hugs the east coast of Florida and about mid down the peninsula it starts to leave the coast, follows and parallels the east coast of the United States and eventually goes to northern Europe. That’s the Gulf Stream. Had that oil spill been blown south from Louisiana and the loop current had come enough north, that oil spill would have gotten in the loop current and it would have taken it down past the very fragile coral reefs of the Florida keys and right up the beaches of southeast Florida, a huge tourism business. And by the way, the Gulf Stream hugs the coast in some cases only a mile off of the beach.
Now, that’s the hard economic reality of what could happen to Florida’s tourism industry, not only on the west coast that it already did that season of the BP oil spill but what could happen on the east coast of Florida, too. So opposition to drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is certainly bipartisan, but also is the opposition to drilling off of the Atlantic coast.
In the last Congress, members from both parties joined together to file a House companion to the legislation that this senator had filed that would prohibit seismic testing in the Atlantic off of Florida. The type of seismic air gun testing that companies wanted to use to search for oil and gas would threaten thousands of marine mammals and fish, including endangered species like the North American Right Whale.
The blast from seismic air guns can cause permanent hearing loss for whales and for dolphins which disrupts their feeding, calving, and their breeding. And in addition to the environmental damage that those surveys would cause, businesses up and down the Atlantic coast would also suffer from drilling activity.
Over 35,000 businesses and over 500,000 commercial fishing families have registered their opposition to o offshore drilling in the Atlantic. From fishermen to hotel owners to restaurateurs, coastal residents, and business owners understand it’s just too dangerous to risk the environment and economy that they depend on.
There is one unique industry off shore in the Florida east coast, and this was, we made the case, way back in the 1980’s when a secretary of the interior named James Watt decided that he was going to drill all the way from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, all the way south to Fort Pierce, Florida. This senator was a young congressman then and took this case on and what finally convinced the Appropriations Committee not to include any funds for the execution of, an offering of those leases was the simple fact that where we are launching our space shuttle then as well as our military rockets from Cape Canaveral, that you simply can’t have oil rigs out there and be dropping the first stages and the solid rocket boosters from the space shuttle.
Now as you know, the cape has come alive with activity, a love commercial rocketry as well as the mainstays for our military space program. And in a year and a half, NASA will launch the largest rocket ever, one-third more powerful than the Saturn V which was the rocket that took us to the moon. And that’s the beginning of the Mars program as we are going to Mars with humans. And so because of that space industry, whether it’s commercial or whether it’s civilian, NASA or whether it’s military, you simply can’t have oil rigs out there in the Atlantic where we are dropping the first stages of those rockets. This is common sense.
So when President Obama took the Atlantic coast off the table in 2017 to 2022, that five-year planning period in that offshore drilling plan, Floridians finally breathed a sigh of relief and they sighed, too, happily. If President Trump intends to open these areas up to drilling, his administration can receive and expect to receive a flood of opposition from the folks who knows what’s going to happen.
So it is this week, and here we are mid-week, it is this week that we’re expecting for the Trump administration to move forward with an executive order that would ignore the wishes of coastal communities.
Now, I want to say that the areas off of Florida in the east coast of the Atlantic are very sensitive, as I have just outlined. But there’s nothing to say that if you have a spill off of Georgia or South Carolina, that it can’t move south. And that starts the problem all over.
This announcement by the president will be like a big present for the oil companies who, by the way, in areas in the Gulf of Mexico that are rich with oil and there are in fact active leases, they’re not producing the oil. So why would you want to grant more leases in areas that is so important to preserve the nation’s economy as well as our military preparedness.
I hope the president thinks twice before putting Florida’s economy at such a risk. I hope he refrains from issuing this executive order, but if he doesn’t, this senator and a bipartisan delegation from Florida will fight this order.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.