Castor Urges Obama Administration to ban drilling in national waters off Florida
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06/29/10 Kate Bradshaw
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The first named storm in the Atlantic hurricane season may not be headed for a collision with the oil mass in the gulf, but it is hurting the recovery effort. Today high seas from Tropical Storm Alex caused the Coast Guard to ground oil-skimming operations off the Louisiana coast. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, US Representative Kathy Castor urged the Obama Administration to curb offshore drilling in coastal waters. The Tampa Democrat says that now’s the time to get off fossil fuels.

If Representative Castor gets her wish, the national waters off Florida, which President Obama had proposed for drilling less than a month before the blowout at Deepwater Horizon, would be spared from oil exploration. But that doesn’t mean all offshore drilling would screech to a halt.

"We're asking President Obama and Secretary Salazar to re-institute the moratorium on offshore oil drilling. This would apply from this point forward to new deep water rigs. President Obama also needs to repudiate the proposal to bring oil rigs closer to the state of Florida."

Castor said she has also re-filed the Coastal Water Protection Act, which would make the 125- to 235-mile buffer off Florida’s coast permanent. That buffer is set to expire in 2022. She said President Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar probably won’t try to push more drilling this shortly after Deepwater Horizon, but the Administration’s proposed drilling expansion may still find its way onto the books in the coming years.

"The proposal that Secretary Salazar explained at the end of March was to allow exploration 125 miles off of Tampa Bay. Now I think that for all intended purposes, that proposal is dead. But with the deadline of 2022, said to expire in a few years, now is the time to act and make that buffer line permanent."

She said that considering that Deepwater Horizon was more than 125 miles from Florida’s coast, a permanent ban is a no-brainer.

"I mean even with a disaster such as the BP Deepwater Horizon ring that is well outside of that buffer area, we understand now the economic damage and the environmental damage that that disaster has rigged on our state. So, we don't just need to maintain our curve buffer, but we've got to say from this point forward that deep point drilling is entirely too risky. It's risky to our tourism economy, our fisheries, and frankly the economic health of the entire state of Florida."

Castor said it’s time to take alternative energy seriously.

"We've got to break that addiction to fossil fuels and oil. These are dwindling resources. We've got to plan ahead for renewable energies and make those investments in solar power, wind, and primarily conservation. There is huge chunk of savings that consumers would benefit from if they would not wait for Washington to act. But would take this into their own hands and find ways to conserve energy into their own lives, and then know that they have a partner here in D.C. that's going to continue to stand up for them and fight for a new clean energy policy."

And in a meeting with President Obama today, Senator Bill Nelson also urged the Administration to retain its ban on drilling off Florida’s coasts. Nelson helped write the law that keeps rigs 125 to 235 miles from Florida’s shore, and has been a vocal critic of BP’s oil disaster response, including the claims process. The president successfully persuaded BP to set up a $20 billion fund for economic damages in the disaster’s wake. Representative Castor said she plans to meet with Ken Feinberg, the so-called pay czar charged with overseeing the fund.

"Well fortunately, President Obama was very pro-active and did convince BP to establish a $20 billion fund to compensate our hardworking fishermen and others who have been impacted by the disaster. I expect to talk to Ken Feinberg, who will be administering that fund today or tomorrow, to impress upon him the importance of acting as quickly as possible. We don't know however how long this disaster is going to run on. Hopefully, they can cap those wells ASAP. But that $20 billion fund must be run so that folks can stay on their feet and feed their families."

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting that BP has met its July First deadline to pay the federal government for the initial costs of the disaster response by paying two bills totaling about $71 million earlier this month. BP is reportedly still reviewing and processing a third bill for $51.4 million.

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