State Politics

2010 FLORIDA LEGISLATURE: Sponsor drops offshore drilling plan for now

TALLAHASSEE — The House sponsor of legislation that would lift a ban on offshore drilling in Florida’s state waters said Friday he was dropping the effort for this year but would try again in 2011.

Rep. Dean Cannon made the announcement as a committee he chairs began reviewing a draft that had yet to be filed with just two weeks left in the 60-day legislative session.

It would have allowed drilling rigs as close as three miles from shore on a temporary basis. Permanent rigs or platforms would have had to stay at least six miles away.

“It is not the right time to vote on this issue,” said the Winter Park Republican. “This is a bicameral process and I haven’t seen any evidence that would suggest that our counterparts in the Senate have an appetite for this issue this year.”

Instead, he plans to use the draft as a starting point next year when he’ll preside over the House as speaker if Republicans retain their majority as expected.

He’ll also have a powerful partner. Sen. Mike Haridopolos, an Indialantic Republican who has been leading the push for offshore oil and natural gas drilling in the other chamber, has been designated as Senate president for 2011-12.

Haridopolos would replace Senate President Jeff Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican who is leaving the Legislature to run for chief financial officer.

Cannon’s draft bill would allow drilling in state waters that extend about 10 miles into the Gulf of Mexico and some three miles into the Atlantic Ocean.

It would not affect federal waters farther from shore. President Barack Obama recently announced plans to lift drilling barriers there.

He wants to open up the Atlantic from Delaware to central Florida and plans to ask Congress to repeal a ban on drilling in the gulf within 125 miles of Florida’s beaches.

Cannon sponsored a similar bill that passed in the House late in last year’s session. Atwater was cool to the idea and it was not taken up in the Senate.

The Select Policy Council on Strategic & Economic Planning agreed to send a report on the issue to Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, that he can forward to his successor — Cannon.

The panel first took public testimony, again hearing the usual arguments.

Proponents said drilling can be done safely to help reduce dependence on foreign oil while providing the state with a new source of revenue.

Opponents said it still wasn’t worth the risk to Florida’s environment and tourism industry nor would it provide the state with a significant boost to either its economy or treasury.

Jay Liles, representing the Florida Wildlife Federation and Apalachicola Riverkeeper, said Florida instead should do more to promote renewable energy.

“This bill will rely on false promises of energy independence based on hope-for bonanzas,” Liles said.

“If we can create more jobs, if we can grow a stronger economy by supporting renewable energy in a stronger fashion could we not forgo or at least stall the decision to go into our natural resources by drilling near shore?”

Florida Petroleum Council executive director Dave Mica spoke in favor of the bill. Mica acknowledged drilling in state waters was not the answer to energy independence or full employment but he argued it was part of the equation.

He credited the Legislature’s examination of the issue with persuading many Floridians to drop their long-standing opposition to drilling.

“We’ve won an awful lot of brains by this discussion,” Mica said. “We’ve still got some hearts to go.”