Pinellas demonstrators speak out against Florida drilling proposal

06/27/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Environmental Protection Agency director Lisa Jackson said today that replenishing wetlands diminished in the wake of the BP oil disaster is a top priority. She says a chunk of the one billion dollars that BP has dedicated to the area will likely go toward sediment projects to restore barrier islands, which provide vital wildlife habitat and storm protection.

The disaster may have faded from headlines, but the debate on offshore drilling is ongoing. On Saturday the St. Petersburg Times reported state Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Governor Rick Scott want to pursue nearshore drilling in state waters. This was fresh on the minds of many who attended the Second annual Hands Across the Sand event, which occurred the same day the Times story ran.

At a press conference at the Tradewinds Resort ahead of the St. Pete Beach leg of the event, State Representative Rick Kriseman, a Democrat from St. Petersburg, said it was like a bad episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the specter of oil drilling in state waters keeps coming back, but there’s always a chance opponents will win in the end.

Last year when he was governor, Charlie Crist called a special session to get a constitutional amendment banning drilling on the ballot. The session ended quickly without a drilling-ban amendment. Crist echoed ban supporters’ concerns over possible environmental and economic impacts. A majority of lawmakers snubbed the proposal, with the exception of Democrats and a few coastal GOP lawmakers. The former governor said Saturday the threat near-shore drilling is real at the moment.

State Representative Jim Frishe, a St. Petersburg Republican, said one key element is missing – that is, support of House Speaker Dean Cannon.

Cannon spokesperson Katie Betta said this is accurate; that the house speaker wants to know the full extent of the BP oil disaster’s economic impacts before incorporating drilling into Florida’s energy policy.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos’s US Senate Campaign did not return a request for comment by air time. Saturday’s event outside the resort on St. Pete Beach drew hundreds, as did similar protests throughout the state and nation. These demonstrations also took place as far away as New Zealand. Darden Rice is Florida Director with the Gulf Restoration Network. She said she knew the crowds wouldn’t be as big this year, given that oil was still gushing into the Gulf when last year’s demonstration took place. She said these demonstrations are important because many lawmakers seem to have amnesia when it comes to energy policy.

In 2010, the Miami Herald reported that primary opponent Bill McCollum’s campaign attacked Rick Scott’s drilling position, noting that Scott had some $20 million in stock in a company that makes oil rig components. Saturday’s demonstrators said they hoped billions in tourism dollars stake would have more sway on elected leaders. Massachusetts resident Cherie Brooks, vacationing on St. Pete Beach, said the issue is a no-brainer.

Saturday’s demonstration was not without its critics. Cedar Key resident Frank Kozak walked up and down the line asking protestors how much they’d be willing to pay for a gallon of gas.

The Obama administration has issued numerous deepwater drilling permits since last year’s blowout, including one some 2,000 feet deeper than the one at Deepwater Horizon.

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