The Orlando Sentinel’s Thursday editorial, “Fix regs, nix session,” dismissed the call for a special session to address offshore drilling as a “selfish political ploy.” Believe me, in the 10 years I’ve served as a state lawmaker, I’ve seen plenty of selfish political ploys. Placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ban offshore drilling is not one of them, and here’s why:
It addresses a real likelihood that one day the Florida Legislature will submit to the very powerful oil lobby. During the past few years, there has been a battle in Tallahassee, and the folks who oppose drilling — count me firmly in that camp — were about to lose. It started when gas prices hit record highs, and some in the Legislature started supporting offshore drilling.
Then came Florida’s budget crisis. Heralding oil revenues as the next fix du jour for our budget shortfalls, an army of oil lobbyists descended on Tallahassee. Like a modern-day Mephistopheles, they asked folks to “just sign here,” and “perfectly safe” oil leases just off our coast would bring the state untold millions of needed revenue.
It nearly worked. In 2009, a bill allowing drilling within 3 miles of Florida’s coast passed the state House. There was no question that given the enthusiastic support of the incoming House speaker and Senate president, near-shore oil drilling was all but guaranteed in 2011.
But then came the spill. So the “drill, baby, drill” crowd had to change its mantra or retreat. Of course, proponents didn’t actually say they were against near-shore drilling. They needed to know more, or for the next legislative session, it was off the table. That’s Tallahassee-speak for we are not doing it today, but tomorrow things may change.
But won’t this sober them up? How could they proceed literally in the wake of this oil spill? The pro-drilling crowd is not chastened by this incident. Shame is not a factor because Big Oil won’t back off something it thinks could be profitable. It might not be next year, but the moment proponents think they can bully near-shore drilling through the Legislature, they will do it. And if you know anything about the Florida Legislature, you should not count on lawmakers to have the requisite backbone.
So that is why we need to move while current events have created some momentum. This is no selfish political ploy. Rather, this is simply an opportunity to advance a good policy that on any other day would have no chance against powerful special interests. Or you could just trust the Florida Legislature.