Nelson & Martinez come together to craft gulf drilling deal by Mitch E.Perry

02/01/06

In an effort to ensure that there will not be oil or gas drilling off of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Florida’s 2 U.S. Senators jointly announced new legislation today that would be a compromise of sorts – the bill would permanently ban drilling off of much the state’s coast in exchange for allowing drilling in some areas now off-limits that are thought to be rich in oil and natural gas reserves.

Officially, the bill would ban drilling within 260 miles of the western Florida coast, and about 150 miles of the Panhandle, with a 150 mile buffer around the rest of the state.

But it would allow the south-central section of what is known as Lease-Sale Area 181 to be explored. That area has been off limits.

In a conference call with reporters this morning, Republican Senator Mel Martinez said that by working together, he and Senator Bill Nelson have so far been effective in staving off Congressional challenges to having drilling closer to the coast – but he said now was the time to be proactive with this legislation, (roll tape# 1 o.q. “From Oil exploration�)

And Martinez said it puts the people of Florida in charge of their immediate future (roll tape#2 o.q.� gas exploration�)

Both Martinez and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson mentioned the part of President Bush’s State of The union address last night that referenced the country’s continuing thirst for oil, which he thinks will help the proposed legislation (roll tape#3 o.q.�the coast of Florida�)

Senator Martinez said he had mentioned the plan to Governor Bush, but the Governor did not know enough of the details to yet give his support.

For environmentalists, as written, the proposed legislation is a better compromise than one that Bush and members of the state’s Republican Congressional were discussing last Summer.

That deal would have allowed oil rigs 125 miles off the Gulf Coast, and would permit energy companies to negotiate directly with the state legislature to put drilling operations closer. A subsequent bill sponsored by Fort Myers Republican Connie Mack and California’s Richard Pombo would have extended the buffer to 150 miles.

Joe Murphy is the Coastal Campaign Coordinator with the Florida Sierra Club, and is a co-host of the WMNF public affairs program “Greenwaves�. He says the Nelson/Martinez compromise is much better from his perspective than what was being discussed last year (roll tape#4 o.q.�represented in Congress�)

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups, like Florida PIRG, are backing the bill.

But one Florida environmentalist is not. Linda Young is with the Clean Water Network. She aggrees that the bill is much better than proposals offered up last year by Governor Bush and Republican Congressman Jeff Miller, but still says the Martinez-Nelson legislation is bad for the Gulf’s eco-system, and could be illegal (roll tape#5 o.q.� at this point�)

If the legislation is successful, it will help both Senators politically, , but potentially more exposure could come to Nelson, as the Democrat is in a re-election fight against Katherine Harris. But Senator Martinez, who knows that he will probably have to work with Tampa Congressman Jim Davis on a companion House bill, said it’s not about politics, but about serving the people of Florida (roll tape#6 o.q.� let’s get this done�)

The bill would not just deal with the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. It would also insure that moratoriums against drilling in all other parts of the Country would be maintained until the year 2020.

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