As Florida officials prepare for the landfall of oil from the Deep Horizon drilling rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, economic repercussions already are being felt in the fishing, hotel, and restaurant industries along the state’s western coast, officials reported Tuesday.
Controversy also is developing along party lines over whether to call a special session of the Legislature to propose a ban on offshore oil drilling in state waters, which extend 10 miles offshore into the Gulf of Mexico and three miles offshore into the Atlantic.
Although the federal government has authority over drilling in federal waters, which extend 200 miles seaward of state waters, some Florida Democrats and the state’s elected chief financial officer, Alex Sink, urged the governor to call the session so a constitutional amendment can be placed on the November ballot to “ban drilling off of Florida’s beaches.”
State law currently bans drilling in state waters and there is a federal ban through 2022 on oil and gas leases in most of the federal Gulf waters along Florida’s west coast.
“I have seen the BP oil spill up close, spreading for miles. This evidence proves that near-beach drilling in Florida is a disastrous idea — we must never let oil companies drill just three miles off our beaches,” said Sink, who is running for governor this year.
Last year the House passed a bill that would have amended state law and allowed leasing of state-owned submerged lands for oil and gas exploration, but so far no bill has made it through the full Legislature. Information on studies done by the House can be found at www.myfloridahouse.gov/energy.aspx.
Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday he might call a special session as early as May 24 to consider the referendum as well as alternative energy legislation. Crist was a Republican until recently when he announced he would run this year for a congressional seat as an independent.
GOP legislative leaders said there is no need for the expense of a special session, which costs as much as $40,000 a day.
“Current state and federal law already bans drilling off the shores of Florida, and let me reaffirm that there are no efforts underway in the Legislature to change that,” said House speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala. The call for a special session was “merely a political ploy to promote the future of politicians,” he added.
Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said the state must develop a consensus on clean and renewable energy policies or a special session would be wasteful expense. Instead, he suggested focusing on protection efforts and holding “those responsible for this catastrophe accountable.”
Crist has already formed an Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force to help businesses recover economic losses and the Oil Spill Legal Advisory Council, which consists of former state attorneys general who will volunteer their time to work on Florida’s legal options.