The Florida House today voted to allow the Governor’s Cabinet to approve oil and gas leases as close as 3 miles off the coast of Florida. One lone Democrat, Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda of Tallahassee, joined every Republican in the Florida House to pass the bill. The Senate is moving more slowly with only 5 days to go in the regularly-scheduled session.
Polling seems to favor the idea of offshore domestic oil and gas development, as residents remember $4.00 per gallon gasoline and face a worldwide recession. Proponents of the bill say it could generate tens of thousands of jobs and millions in revenue for the state. Republicans deftly attached an amendment to the bill that would restore funding for “Florida Forever”, a very popular land conservation program, making it far more difficult for Democrats to vote against the bill. But vote against it they did.
But it’s the maneuvering that is the story as much as the bill its self. There is no sponsor in the senate, though Jim King (R-Jacksonville) is considering adding it to the larger renewable energy bill. No, oil and gas are not renewable energy, but half a loaf, as they say. Still, attaching the funding for “Florida Forever” to an oil and gas drilling bill was called by some a ‘Political Master Stroke”. For some Republicans who might have been sitting on the fence, it gave political cover to be able to support the bill, as did Governor Crist’s at least tacit support of the measure. He called the idea “intriguing”.
There are good reasons to consider developing domestic offshore resources. Not so much that it will “break America’s addition to foreign oil”. I don’t know if that’s possible without cheap alternative energy. But, since oil is the currency that’s currently understood, it makes sense to at least work towards getting it out of the ground, and drilling technology has made great strides in safety for workers and the environment since the ban was first put in place. And, with the side-drilling technology currently available, it’s conceivable that Cuba, or a country affiliated with that island nation, could tap reserves in US waters from outside our territorial boundaries. That would would cause a great deal of gnashing of teeth, but there’s likely very little that could be done about it.
There are also good reasons to NOT develop those resources. The environment is one. There are already tar balls that wash up on shore occasionally here and in other places from passing ships. A spill or leak only three miles off shore could spoil a beach for at least an entire season, which could have a negative impact on a local economy. Nesting turtles and shorebirds would also be affected. Anyone who has seen video of or participated in the cleanup of an oil spill knows it can be harmful to people and the environment. And, there are those who advocate leaving the oil in the ground until OPEC starts to run out. Then the domestic oil will be worth a whole lot more … if we’re willing to sell it, I suppose.
Again, the measure faces a very uncertain future in Tallahassee. With no companion bill in the senate, and lawmakers basically having a couple of days to work out the kinks is a budget where there is still a multi-billion-dollar gap between revenue and spending, it might not be the ideal time to try to ram through a controversial drilling bill. Should the legislature go into special session (at $40,000/day) to finish the budget, it might have more of a chance to pass. But the issue certainly bears watching. Public sentiment seems to favor drilling, and by a wide margin. Lawmaker who favor drilling, and they ARE in the majority in Florida, now know there are procedures and political cover they can use to pass such a bill. In a representative form of government, that may be all it takes.