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Dave Aronberg: Florida must ban near-shore drilling, provide disaster relief

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Dave Aronberg offers this op-ed: As our state reels from the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it is simply not enough to amend our Constitution to prohibit near-shore drilling.

With all the understandable anger surrounding this disaster, which will surely have long-term economic and environmental effects on Florida, some are seeking a special session of the Legislature to ensure we will never see oil rigs near our coast.

While I support that measure – and have consistently opposed near-shore drilling even when it was politically unpopular to do so – a special session must do more than ban something that won’t happen now anyway.

The special session should also provide immediate relief to those impacted by this disaster, and finally position the state to meet our 21st-century energy needs.

First, the state should provide tax relief for citizens and businesses that have been impacted by this disaster, even as federal lawmakers propose their own measures.

Just as the Legislature recently provided tax relief for property owners whose home values were reduced by defective drywall, we should heed the appeals from county property appraisers who seek similar treatment for those impacted by property value decreases caused by the oil spill.

The proposal by the property appraisers would hold BP accountable for lost property taxes to local governments.

Second, we must identify and use alternative energy resources, and find ways to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

In the past two legislative sessions, legislators have repeatedly failed to pass legislation to promote renewable energy programs, despite the support of Gov. Charlie Crist.

Although Florida is the “Sunshine State,” our state is an underachiever when it comes to solar power, producing less than the “Garden State” of New Jersey.

Third, we must pursue every legal option to ensure all of the citizens and businesses impacted by this spill are adequately compensated for losses. To that end, the Legislature should revisit a new law backed by our current attorney general and passed during the most recent legislative session.

This law ties the hands of our state when we seek to punish wrongdoers by making it more difficult for the attorney general to hire outside counsel to sue on behalf of the state.

During Senate debate, I referred to the bill as the “Polluters Protection Act,” and warned that the legislation would make it harder to seek compensation from a company that spilled oil onto our shores.

The Legislature passed the bill anyway; the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred days after the bill was signed into law.

This crisis requires strong leadership and a sensible approach. Our state’s beaches, rivers, estuaries and marshes are too important to our tourism and fishing economies to ever put them in jeopardy.

These areas are not just environmental treasures, but are a key part of our state’s economic engine.

A constitutional ban on near-shore oil drilling is a start, but that alone is not going to save a fisherman’s livelihood or diversify our state’s energy resources.

That’s why our approach must be comprehensive and long-lasting.

If a special session is going to be called, it needs to be based on sound policies, not just politics.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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