Anna Maria Island and Manatee said no to offshore drilling. It could still happen, opponents say

Local governments, environmental groups, residents and businesses throughout Florida have voiced opposition to offshore oil drilling and exploration in waters around the state.

In Manatee County, the concern runs so deep that the coastal cities of Anna Maria, Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach have passed resolutions opposing the federal government’s plans to expand offshore drilling in state waters.

The Manatee County Commission followed close behind.

Despite that, it could still happen.

A temporary moratorium on offshore drilling in certain areas of the Gulf Coast is set to expire in 2022.

And last year, the Trump Administration released a five-year program to expand offshore oil and gas drilling possibilities to 90 percent of coastal waters in the continental U.S., including Florida’s entire coastline. The plan is currently on hold after a recent court decision upheld a ban on drilling in Arctic waters — but it’s not off the table.

Aside from the federal government, the main proponents of the plan have been energy industry interests.

In addition to the localized opposition, state lawmakers, Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida’s entire congressional delegation have expressed objections to the idea.

On Wednesday, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act passed a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support. The bill seeks to permanently ban offshore drilling in certain areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Another bill that would ban drilling expansion on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act, also passed.

The bills still have a long way to go to become law, facing potential watering down in the U.S. Senate and the threat of a veto from the White House.

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“We’re still vulnerable and still very much in the crosshairs of this drilling plan,” said Hunter Miller, a campaign organizer with marine conservation group Oceana.

Miller addressed a gathering of local business leaders at an event held by the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday night and warned of the potential economic impacts that offshore drilling could have.

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Hunter Miller, a campaign organizer with marine conservation group Oceana, works with local governments on passing resolutions against offshore oil drilling and exploration in Florida. Ryan Ballogg rballogg@bradenton.com

Drawing parallels to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, a presentation highlighted potential effects of an oil spill that include plummeting real estate prices, a decline in tourism and lack of consumer trust in seafood — not to mention the environmental degradation.

But protests from environmental advocates only go so far, Miller said.

“A really fantastic display of opposition has come from the voices of business groups and leaders,” Miller said, adding that members of Congress want to hear from the business community.

Miller encouraged local business people to continue to reach out to their representatives on the issue of offshore drilling and urge opposition.

He also noted that local government resolutions give U.S. Congress members more authority to oppose offshore drilling plans.

Robin Miller, president of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, also spoke about the power that businesses have to influence lawmakers.

“We need to be an agent of change; to reach out to people who don’t think that they depend on a coastal environment and show them that they do,” Robin said.

Robin also chairs the Florida Gulf Coast Business Coalition, an organization of Gulf Coast businesses that have signed on to oppose offshore drilling. Over 6,000 businesses are represented by the group.

On a personal level, Robin encouraged Manatee County residents to discuss the issue with friends and family — especially those who live farther inland.

“Call, email, write letters to a local paper, blog. Educate residents,” she said.

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Local business people from Anna Maria Island, Cortez and Manatee County posed for a photo after a presentation about the impacts of offshore drilling at Waterline Marina Resort in Holmes Beach on Tuesday. Ryan Ballogg rballogg@bradenton.com

In a show of support, business leaders from around Manatee County posed for a photo with a “Protect Our Coast” sign after the presentation.

“I think that this grassroots effort moving through the whole state is wonderful,” said Cindy Novak, a Lakewood Ranch resident and sales counselor at Westminster Point Pleasant. “We have great memories here and we want to preserve that. We want this for our kids.”

The pair of bills that would permanently ban drilling around Florida’s coastline will now be referred to the U.S. Senate.

In April, Gov. DeSantis said that he will “be raising Cain” if offshore drilling plans that include Florida are advanced.