Oil Drilling Axis Targets Florida's Offshore

Oil's money men lubricate efforts to open up state's waters to drilling

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News that "a secretive group of powerful legislators, business groups and Texas oil companies has been laying the groundwork" to open Florida’s shores to oil and gas drilling should make all of us sit up and pay attention.
A story by St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald delves into the machinations of the "Florida Energy Associates," a shadowy group that "identifies itself only by saying it is financed by a group of independent oil producers."

These mysterious oilmen—are they Floridians? Americans? Foreign governments? —apparently have fat profits to spend. They’ve hired lobbyists, public relations experts, a financial consultant and a pollster to get Florida to sell drilling leases in state waters within ten miles off Florida’s Gulf Coast.

We’ve had a sensible moratorium against offshore oil drilling for the past 20 years, because clean, sandy beaches unsullied by tar balls remain our greatest asset.

Lobbyists and fixers hired by the unidentified oil men have dropped a quarter-million dollars of influence around Tallahassee, Klas reports, including "$55,000 to political parties, $35,000 to Republicans and $20,000 to Democrats since May."

"The group has sponsored legislative leadership dinners and has recruited two of the most powerful state lawmakers to sponsor the oil-drilling bill in 2010: Sen. Mike Haridopolos, a Melbourne Republican slated to become Senate president in 2010, and Rep. Dean Cannon, a Winter Park Republican set to become House speaker in 2010."

The slime just keeps getting thicker. They’ve hired professional spinners—former aides to Governors Jeb Bush and Lawton Chiles (two state leaders who sensibly opposed oil derricks off one of the world’s best tourist destinations)—to convince us that dirty and dangerous offshore oil drilling is all of a sudden clean and desirable.

Please remember, your tax dollars – $127-million worth!—have already been paid to oil companies since 2002, to buy up their offshore leases, ostensibly to keep our beaches free from the nasty tar balls that washed up on Texas beaches all summer.

Gov. Bush promised then that offshore oil drilling was history, and the millions we gave to the oil companies to make them go away was the most cost-effective solution.

But apparently not.

Last spring, the stealth oil men peddled a surprise bill in the Florida Legislature to allow offshore drilling. Their proposal would have allowed the oil companies to bypass the state’s normal competitive bidding process. The state, the bill directed, would have to award a bid in just 90 days. The state doesn’t do that for office supply purchases, but should do that for something as major as allowing offshore oil rigs in public waters? This ridiculous bill passed the Florida House of Representatives, but thankfully not the Senate.

Now the Florida Senate president and the State House speaker are openly propping offshore oil drilling as if it were the great hope for getting Florida out of recession. Not surprisingly, the state’s big developer groups—responsible for overbuilding, flipping real estate, and crashing the go-go false economy—are supporting the oil men, too.

Washington is getting on the bandwagon. Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski and Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu are sponsoring a federal measure that would reduce a current no-drill zone and expand leases in the Gulf’s Destin Dome area. Thank God for Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who is fighting it on our behalf.

The only hope in all this madness is for the people to insist on common sense and accountability. Enough with short-sighted politics and big-bucks oil barons on our shores.

Florida’s been a magnet for greedy hucksters who want to exploit her charms since before statehood. The St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald did a good job shining a light on the Big Oil money men skulking around our state. Now, we the people need to run them off.

David Guest worked at Earthjustice from 1990 to 2016, as the managing attorney of the Florida regional office. His countless legal battles were, in one way or another, all about water. His motivation to protect Florida’s water came from years of running boats in the state’s rivers and lakes, which convinced him that waterways are many people’s spiritual connection to nature.