In a letter sent last week to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is leading a group of 16 Florida congressional representatives asking to avoid drilling off the state’s west coast in the Gulf of Mexico.
Eleven Democratic U.S. representatives and five Republican U.S. representatives, including Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, signed the letter.
“Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there,” the letter reads.
Buchanan said he has been a longtime opponent of offshore drilling. Earlier this month, the Trump administration proposed leasing 73 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico over five years for offshore drilling. On Wednesday, Secretary Zinke announced the bids in a lease sale of 163 tracts totaling more than 900,000 acres in the Central Planning Area of the Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico off of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
In Buchanan’s announcement to his joining the bipartisan group Monday, he made mention of how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, caused by an explosion that killed 11, leaked four million barrels of oil and threatened hundreds of species. Florida is set to receive $3.25 billion over 18 years from BP after a 2015 settlement.
“Florida’s coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean and we shouldn’t jeopardize the state’s economy or environment by gambling on operations that lack adequate safeguards,” Buchanan said.
Buchanan co-sponsored the Preserving Florida’s Coastal Communities Act, which would prohibit drilling within 125 miles of Florida’s coast.
Letter sent to Secretary Zinke asking not to drill in Gulf of Mexico
Dear Secretary Zinke,
As you begin your service as Secretary of the Interior, we are writing to convey our strong opposition to offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there.
In 2006, Congress passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy and Security Act (P.L. 109-432), which created a moratorium on drilling in most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico – including all areas east of the Military Mission Line.
It’s been nearly seven years since the Deepwater Horizon explosion fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana claimed the lives of eleven men and ruined an entire tourism season for the Gulf states. And we still don’t know the full extent of the damage done to marine life such as dolphins and sea turtles.
This tragedy was a painful reminder that Florida’s beaches and economy are at risk even when oil rigs are hundreds of miles away from its shores.
In addition to its economic value, the eastern Gulf of Mexico provides a critical testing and training range for our nation’s military – the largest such training area in the United States. For example, pilots at Eglin Air Force Base in Pensacola, Florida, use the open space to train with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.
In 2015, the Department of Defense reiterated its opposition to offshore drilling activities in this vital training area. As a former Navy SEAL, you understand the importance of ensuring that the men and women of our armed forces have access to the best training opportunities available.
We expect that as our nation’s newest Interior Secretary you will follow both the letter and the spirit of the law that currently bans drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and we strongly urge you to heed the recommendations of the Department of Defense and coastal communities by keeping offshore drilling rigs out of the area.