State Politics

Florida Senate says no to oil drilling bill

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist and Senate leaders put the brakes on a bill to open the door to near-shore oil drilling off Florida’s coast Monday just as it won overwhelmingly approval in a fast-tracked vote in the House.

Moments after the House voted 70-43 — with only two Democrats in support and only three Republicans against — Senate budget chief J.D. Alexander told reporters the idea has run out of time this session. Senate President Jeff Atwater underscored that message at the end of the day.

“I’m not receptive to it,” said Atwater, R-North Palm Beach. “That’s is a really significantly important issue. It’d be very difficult to imagine that’s part of an end game for this session.”

Crist said Monday he was concerned about the “lateness of the hour” and the “closeness to shore” of the plan to give the governor and Cabinet authority to accept applications for oil and gas drilling between three and 10 miles off Florida’s beaches.

The Senate rejection is a major disappointment for Rep. Dean Cannon, the Winter Park Republican designated to be House speaker in 2010. He had agreed to support the proposal on behalf of a group called Florida Energy Associates, which had spent months doing advance work on the issue.

The group refuses to identify its members except to say they include independent oil men interested in exploring for oil and gas in Florida waters.

Among those House members voting in favor of the bill who represent Manatee and Sarasota counties were House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota. Those voting against included Reps. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota; Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

“I am in support of offshore drilling,” said Reagan after the vote. “Primarily, my vote on this bill was to move it to the Cabinet so they can hopefully guide us, Florida, and the U.S., toward independence from foreign oil. This vote was to help push that forward.”

Other supporters of the bill said Americans are too dependent on foreign sources of energy, often from countries that are hostile to America and American interests. Continued dependence on foreign oil threatens both our national and economic security, said Michelle Rehwinkle Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee.

Although she acknowledged the U.S. must halt its addiction to oil, she suggested that while Floridians still fill cars and boats with gas, they should make sure as much of that oil as possible comes from home shores.

Fitzgerald disputed poll numbers that supporters of the bill were claiming.

“This has to do with drilling right offshore,” he said. “None of the public opinion polling you’ve been hearing about has anything to do with this proposal before us today,” he said.

He contended that sponsors provided “no substantial evidence this will lead to serious increases in revenues.”

— Bradenton Herald Staff Writer Sara Kennedy contributed to this report