House OKs Permanent Drilling Ban Off Florida

Sep 12, 2019

Credit floridapolitics.com

On a bipartisan vote of 248-180, the U.S. House Wednesday passed a measure that would outlaw oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports House Resolution 205 now goes to the Senate.

“If drilling off of Florida is going to be the only thing that’s going to keep us from having high energy prices and a reliance on foreign energy, I don’t know why that hadn’t [sic] happened yet,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) on the House Floor. “Right now, we are not drilling off the coast of Florida, and we are energy-dominant in the world.”

Gaetz was one of 21 GOP lawmakers joining 227 Democrats in favor of House Resolution 205. He spoke on the House floor Wednesday, in support of the bill, which would permanently extend the current moratorium on drilling beyond its scheduled expiration in 2022.

“There are many reasons to oppose drilling off of Florida’s shores; our environment, our tourism economy, our real property values,” Gaetz said. “But I come to the floor today to plead the case for Northwest Florida’s military mission.”

The test range in the eastern Gulf, Gaetz told colleagues, is about the only one where live missiles are launched over water towards land-based practice targets. 

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach).
Credit house.gov

“And I cannot believe that I have to come here to actually make the argument that it’s an incredibly stupid idea to launch experimental missiles over active oil rigs,” said Gaetz. “That would seem to be obvious to most people; I know it’s obvious to many in my district. This military mission is what keeps up safe.”

“The military issue in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is a really big one that really does help our cause here; what they do there – mainly out of Eglin Air Force Base but others as well – they can’t do that anywhere else,” said Christian Wagley, a coastal organizer for the group Healthy Gulf.

“It’s a great day I think for really everybody in Florida,” Wagley said. “The issue of drilling for oil and gas near the Florida coast is really one of the most bipartisan issues I’ve ever seen in terms of the opposition to it. It’s just not at all compatible with Florida’s economy or its environment.”

Wagley and other environmentalists are now shifting their focus from the House to the U.S. Senate. Florida’s Marco Rubio has a bill that would also ban offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf, but only through 2027. Sen. Rick Scott has signed onto Rubio’s bill.

“We will certainly be pushing our Florida senators to take [HR 205] up and try to make it happen in the Senate,” said Wagley. “I think it would be really hard for a senator representing Florida with the strength of the opposition to drilling off Florida to not support this moratorium.”

Wagley expects a tougher fight for HR 205 on the other side of the Rotunda.

Christian Wagley, Healthy Gulf.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

“With the balance equal among all the states in the Senate it’s going to be a little bit harder,” Wagley said. “Because you’ve got more power with interior states – say in the Midwest – so it’s really going to be dependent on our Florida senators to work with their colleagues who represent Midwestern states to really show them the importance of this for Florida and to get them on board with it.”

Florida voters passed an oil and gas ban last November. Politically, the Trump administration’s current plan to open up most of the U.S. coastline to drilling could clash with what Wagley calls the “power of Florida” in 2020.

“Florida, I think, has chosen the winner in the presidential election every year since I think 1964; it’s a battleground state and it’s really going to be hard for President Trump to come to Florida with a plan out there that proposes drilling off the Florida coast,” said Wagley. “So it will be interesting to see if they modify those plans or what they do as we get closer to the election.”

Offshore drilling is unpopular in Florida across-the-board. A Quinnipiac University poll earlier this year shows 64 percent of voters statewide against the practice. Among Republicans, the opposition was 54-38 percent. Much of that disapproval can be traced back to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, when tar balls came ashore in Florida, decimating the seafood and tourism industries.