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Group Wants Oil Drilling Ban in State Constitution

October 22, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - This week marks the six-month anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill off the Gulf Coast of Florida, and a citizen group is petitioning for constitutional amendment banning oil drilling near the state's beaches to help make sure it doesn't happen again. The group, Save Our Seas, Beaches and Shores, led by the Florida Wildlife Federation and its allies, wants an amendment on the 2012 ballot that would stop drilling within 10 miles on the Gulf Coast and within three miles on the Atlantic Coast.

The new group's chairman and president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, Manley Fuller, says they tried to get the legislature to place a drilling ban amendment on the ballot during its special session this summer.

"Citizens say they don't want oil drilling in Florida, so they've started this new drive. We tried to get the legislature to do it; this is exactly what we tried to get them to do, and they refused to do it. Now we're having to take matters into our own hands."

Fuller says state law currently prohibits drilling near shore, but that could change at any time. He says it was a close call the last two legislative sessions, with legislators trying to piggyback drilling legislation on 11th-hour bills.

"The legislature was actively considering allowing oil drilling as close as three miles to Florida, reversing 30 years of bi-partisan policy. We don't want that to be an option. The only way we can make it not be an option is to place it in the constitution."

Fuller says the efforts to allow drilling happened before the Deepwater Horizon spill, and legislators have assured him they will not try to pass such legislation this session. He says it's critical to Florida's environment, ecosystem and economy that drilling be kept off Florida beaches.

"We want to protect our coastal environment, and our coastal environment is linked to our coastal economy, which is huge in Florida. We had a spill way out in the ocean; it's still having some effects. What if we had an accident right off the shore of Florida? That could be catastrophic."

Prohibiting drilling in Florida waters also would help protect the state's $50 billion a year tourist industry, Fuller adds.

The organization needs volunteers to collect 700,000 voter signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. They will kick off the effort at the polls on Election Day, Nov. 2, and follow up with coastal cleanups and other community events around the state.

More information is available at www.sosbs.org.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL