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Bill Nelson talks offshore oil drilling ban during Southwest Florida stop

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Sen. Bill Nelson vowed to fight off threats to drill in the waters off Florida’s west coast, telling Southwest Florida officials he’ll do whatever he can to protect the coastal communities.

“Increasingly we have threats to drill in the Gulf of Mexico off the west coast of Florida, and it’s getting to the point that I have to keep beating back these attempts,” said Nelson during a meeting in Fort Myers on Tuesday.

In 2006, Nelson and then-Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, passed legislation to ban oil drilling off much of the Sunshine State’s Gulf Coast through 2022. The no-drilling zone, according to Nelson’s office, extends 125 miles off much of the Florida Gulf Coast, and as far as 235 miles at some points, to protect military training areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Nelson filed legislation in January that would extend the ban another five years, from 2022 to 2027.

While President Donald Trump’s administration has announced they were implementing the same five-year oil and gas leasing plan as President Barack Obama’s administration, Nelson said there are concerns the 2006 law could be overturned.

“What I find is one of the newer senators from Louisiana keeps filing bills that do all kinds of things, very subtle like the proverbial camel getting its nose under the tent.” said Nelson. “That’s what we’ve had to fight off over and over. The good news is almost all, in a bipartisan way, of the congressional delegation wants to keep oil drilling off of the coast of Florida. The Atlantic is another matter … but we have that kind of unity, in the Atlantic as well.”

In March, Nelson and several members of the Florida congressional delegation — including Republicans Vern Buchanan, Francis Rooney, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Democrats Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, and Darren Soto — sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging him to keep the eastern Gulf off limits for oil drilling.

“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,” read the letter.

Sanibel Island Mayor Kevin Ruane said his community could be negatively impacted if drilling were to occur off the coast, noting that it’s part of a trickle-down effect.

“No one I’m aware of is in favor of drilling,” he said.

Nelson said he plans to have a similar meeting with members of Florida’s east coast delegation in the coming weeks about off-shore drilling.

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