Environmentalists fear confirmation of Interior Secretary could lead to oil drilling near Florida

Hands Across the Sand opposition to drilling and fracking
Florida residents hold Hands Across the Sand on Treasure Island Beach to oppose oil and gas drilling. By Seán Kinane / WMNF News (May 2013).

UPDATE: Thursday April 11, 2019:  The U.S. Senate confirmed former oil and gas lobbyist David Bernhardt as the secretary of the Interior Department.

Environmentalists are concerned that oil and gas drilling off Florida could become a reality if a new Interior Department Secretary is confirmed by the Senate as soon as this week.

The moratorium on oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts will expire in 2022; most Florida elected officials in Congress and in the State Legislature want to extend that drilling ban.

WMNF interviewed Sarah Gledhill, senior Florida field campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Back in November of 2018, Floridians voted to ban oil drilling in Florida state waters. Now, that’s three miles in the Atlantic Coast and nine nautical miles in the Gulf of Mexico. That passage was 70%, so 70% of the voters spoke out and said, ‘We do not support oil drilling in the state of Florida.’

"Don't Drill Our Coasts" beach ball. offshore drilling
“Don’t Drill Our Coasts” beach ball. Seán Kinane / WMNF News (2009)

“That was a very strong message that the voters sent. Obviously, we couldn’t vote on the federal waters. But our Congressional delegation has been standing with Floridians — as well as our business community up and down the Florida state coast — and military installations in the Panhandle to protect the state of Florida and oppose offshore oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.”

But all of that could be in danger because the oil industry seems to be convinced that it’s going to put forward a plan to drill in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. What do we know about that plan and where it stands?

“We’re waiting — any moment — when the acting Secretary of the Interior Department is confirmed by [the Senate] we expect the plan to be announced.

“We are not sure what will be in the plan. If you speak to the oil industry, they believe that they’ve come up with great compromise and concessions that will protect Florida while also producing oil and advancing [President Donald] Trump’s aggressive energy agenda.

“Unfortunately, we know it’s not safe. The acting Secretary, who will be confirmed — David Bernhardt — used to be an oil lobbyist. So, talk about the fox guarding the hen house.”

If a plan is released to allow oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts there will be a comment period for the public to weigh in.

Kathy Castor at USF
Kathy Castor at USF. Seán Kinane/WMNF News (2015).

In an email statement Wednesday, Tampa-area Congress member Kathy Castor (D-FL) wrote, “”It is outrageous that the Trump Administration is willing to put our state’s beautiful coast – and our state’s economy – at risk by expanding offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Also in an email statement Wednesday, the Sierra Club national political director Ariel Hayes said, “Drilling the coasts of Florida should be off limits, period. Even some of Trump’s biggest supporters recognize that his reckless insistence on drilling may be as perilous for his future as it is for Florida. This is a toxic reminder that Trump is willing to sacrifice the health and safety of Floridians, along with their tourism and fishing industries, just to help a few politically powerful oil companies make a quick profit.”

Politico reported Wednesday that President Trump could pay a political price in Florida if the drilling plan goes forward.


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