Report: Florida will reap economic benefits by not drilling
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12/08/10 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

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Last week the Obama Administration announced it will not lift its ban in offshore oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf.

Tomorrow the Sierra Club and Environment Florida will discuss the results of a study they say reaffirms the administration’s decision. They will be joined by representatives from the seafood, tourism, and real estate industries at John’s Pass in Madeira Beach.

Phil Compton is regional head of Sierra Club Florida. He says the concern now is what a Republican supermajority in the state legislature will mean for Florida’s coasts.

"A lot of people talk about how much is out there, what the oil and gas reserves are, and they make the assumption that we can drill for that and add that to the jobs that we already have in coastal tourism, and recreational fishing and commercial fishing. Of course, the Deepwater Horizon disaster I think showed a lot of people if you put two and two together that the two really aren't compatible. There were tens of thousands of people put out of work in the central Gulf, in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. A lot of fishermen are still sitting on the docks. Their boats aren't out there. The Royal Red Shrimp season was shut down after it had begun because they found oil in the shrimp. Very sad thing but, it's still there.

"You can't add those jobs and I thought it was very interesting that Governor-elect Scott, Senator-elect Marco Rubio, our Senate President of the State Legislature, Mike Haridopolos, all came out and said that this was a job killing move by the President. Whereas what we know from our experience, our sad experience this year, is that we've got plenty of jobs that are at risk. So, what this report tells us is exactly how many jobs do we have in Florida, and all over America, in tourism and fishing and the jobs also in coastal real estate. What that's worth for our economy, and how does that compare with the oil and gas reserves."

What was your methodology in conducting this study?

"Well, we really basically used government statistics. We used all of the reports. We know, for instance, that Florida has America's largest recreational fishing industry. Something we're very proud of, that's an industry we should protect and this puts a number on that, just how much is that worth. We have a large commercial fishing industry, and of course we know we have a big tourism industry. People come from all over the world to visit what has been recognized as some of America's best beaches, right here in the Tampa Bay area. And that's how we make money here in Florida. The great thing about this situation right now is we now know that things that the American Petroleum Institute was telling Floridians all over the place a couple of years ago, that you can have your cake and eat it too is really not true. It's an either or proposition. And if you're going to choose one, the numbers show that you should choose to keep what we've already got."

Are you concerned that some on the right, and pro oil industry people might be skeptical of the results of the study because it came from a collaboration between two environmental organizations?

We cite everything that we state here. It's not the opinion of the Sierra Club and Environment Florida, it's government statistics. And when you say right and left, those terms really are meaningless here. It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat. Bill Young, Republican, has represented Pinellas County for a long time. Kathy Castor, Democrat, represents Tampa and part of St. Pete. They don't differ on this.

"Everybody is together. All of the Republicans and Democrats who represent us in the state legislature from these areas are against us. The Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously this year to ask the President to do what he did last week, keep drilling far away from our shores. We are currently protected by federal law that says you can't drill within 234 miles of Tampa Bay. Now, the Deepwater Horizon situation showed us, maybe that wasn't close enough, maybe that wasn't far enough out, maybe 300 miles should be the limit but we're not going to drill any closer than that and that's not an issue with people on the coastline who know how important this is for us, economically. The reason the Sierra Club and the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, who's president will be there with us tomorrow morning to stand together is that the environment and the economy are one and the same. There's no conflict, if you protect our environment, you protect our economy and vice versa."

That kind of leads into my next question which is the real estate industry and several other industries that may not have always been on the side of the environment, traditionally, you know, you have developers and such. They're all sort of lining up to support a ban on off-shore drilling, how has it been to work with groups with which you have previously not been aligned on other issues?

"It's really a lot of fun you know, when you can recognize that as Floridians we may disagree on some issues, but by golly on something that really matters the most, how we make a living here, and what makes Florida special, why we live here? We absolutely see eye-to-eye. Democrats and Republicans and [Chambers of Commerce] and environmental groups, there is no conflict, there is no difference of opinion. Things that my friends in the Chamber, and Bill Young, and people like that say 'well, I could have said that.'"

Previous WMNF coverage of the Sierra Club

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