U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and three Florida members of Congress, Democrats U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Ted Deutch, and Republican Vern Buchanan sounded an alarm Monday against President Donald Trump‘s potential interests in oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts and said they’re gathering bipartisan support in opposition.
Nelson, Wasserman Schultz of Weston, and Buchanan of Longboat Key announced they intend to file bills Monday to tighten protections set in drilling moratoria, adding they already have four other Florida Republican co-sponsors, and hope to get the entire Florida delegation. The bills are a reaction to an executive order Trump signed Friday, re-examining prospects of oil and gas drilling along the Atlantic.
The trio of Democrats gathered Monday at the Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Campus in Dania Beach, joined by Richard E. Dodge, executive director of Nova’s National Coral Reef Institute, to profess the dangers offshore drilling can pose to Florida’s ecology and beach tourism economy. They offered plenty of horrific remembrances of the Deepwater Horizon spill of seven years ago.
“Welcome to paradise,” Nelson said. “We want to keep that paradise.”
Nelson and Wasserman Schultz said they have all of Florida’s Democratic members of Congress and hope to get Florida’s Republican House members to sign on as co-sponsors, and that they already have commitments from Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Brian Mast, Francis Rooney, and Matt Gaetz.
One uncertainty, however, is whether Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will sign onto Nelson’s bill.
Nelson said he has spoken with Rubio, but “he has not signed on yet.”
The current federal bans on oil and gas leases and drilling off both the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast extend until 2022. But Trump’s executive order on Friday rescinds a President Barack Obama order banning sonic testing for oil and gas on the Atlantic side, and also orders the U.S. Department of Interior to reassess the oil and gas prospects there.
The bills would require that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Coast Guard weigh in as well, and sets other precautions, such as requiring NOAA to carry out a long-term marine environment monitoring and research program for the Gulf of Mexico. It also would extend the Gulf-side ban through 2027.
Buchanan, a lifelong opponent of drilling off the Florida coast, declared in a news release, “Florida’s beaches are vital to our economy and way of life. Our coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean.”
The sponsors said Trump’s order puts Florida’s coastlines at risk, signaling a desire to open the areas up to oil and gas leases.
“The oil boys will not stop. They think they have a friend in the White House. This is the opening salvo,” Nelson said of Trump’s executive order.
Wasserman Schultz called drilling along Florida’s coasts potential “environmental and economic suicide” for Florida.
“So let me be crystal clear: Florida’s bipartisan congressional delegation locks arms to defend our coast. We are drawing a unified line in the sand,” Wasserman Schultz said.