Behind "Drill, Baby, Drill"

05/07/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Today, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the Gulf oil spill makes it impossible to pass climate legislation. The bill is ostensibly aimed at curbing carbon emissions. Graham said there aren't nearly the 60 votes needed to pass it because of a provision for extended offshore drilling.

That law would have dealt with U.S. waters, but the idea of drilling off Florida’s coasts may no longer have the Republican support it once did among state lawmakers. In St. Pete Beach yesterday, State Rep. Florida Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, a Sarasota Democrat, said that as Florida braces for the effects of the oil leak in the Gulf, it’s becoming clear that the true meaning of the 2008 GOP catch phrase “Drill, Baby, Drill!” may have actually had little to do with oil.

In the midst of a presidential election, I think that particular issue became a symbolic one. Folks in one of the parties wanted to portray environmentalists, and people concerned about energy, as somehow out of the mainstream, as somehow attacking our way of life, maybe a way of thinking about people who drive SUVs and have motorboats, are being vilified. And that struck a chord with people, and I understand that. Politics is an emotional and symbolic endeavor. So I think a lot of people were chanting, “Drill, baby, drill!” because of an underlying cultural politics, not because they had thoroughly considered the implications of oil drilling for us here in the state of Florida.

While many of this year’s midterm election campaigns are intensely partisan, the disaster in the Gulf has challenged conventional political wisdom. Now, according to a poll released yesterday, 57 percent of Florida Republicans support drilling off Florida's coasts, a number that is down from 80 percent last year. After flying over the oil slick Thursday, top Republican state legislators said they want to permanently table the idea of opening up state waters to oil exploration. While some Democrats question their motives, Fitzgerald said the economic impact of the spill may turn drilling from a political battleground into one that’s economic.

Now we're in a different place. That campaign is over. Now we're thinking about what is good for Florida. And suddenly, this becomes not a symbolic issue, but a bread-and-butter issue that affects our lives. Not a football, but something real. And I think that you're seeing it turn from being a partisan issue to being one that cuts across party lines. We see opposition to this drilling proposal among environmental groups, among Chambers of Commerce around the state, among small-business communities, among surfers, among all kinds of folks. People are really focusing now on what does this mean for us, and how does it affect our pocketbook?

Fitzgerald and other Democratic legislators have urged Gov. Charlie Crist, now free of Republican party ties, to call a special session to discuss a constitutional amendment that would ban drilling within twelve miles of Florida’s shores. As of air time, it is unclear whether he will do so.

More WMNF coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill:

BP's track record on safety, and are the chemical dispersants harmful to the environment?

Coast Guard holds secret meeting with environmental groups

Castor says BP thinks oil leak could be up to 60 thousand barrels per day

Seabird sanctuary prepares for oil slick disaster in Tampa Bay

Officials give rosy view on oil spill recovery efforts

Sen Bill Nelson wants pause in exploration until cause of oil spill determined

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Spill baby, spill