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Oil Rigs Coming Soon to Florida's Coastline?

April 22, 2009

Florida beachgoers may soon be looking at oil rigs, if a Florida House committee has its way. In a last-minute maneuver, committee members have given their nod to a bill that would lift the ban on oil drilling in state waters. If passed by the legislature, it would allow oil rigs three miles off Florida beaches.

David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice, says this comes on the heels of 50 years of legal battles trying to protect Florida's beaches from the risks of catastrophic oil spills.

"It just is not a rational thing to be doing when you have a beautiful sensitive coastline like this; it just doesn't make any sense at all. It's like building a munitions factory next to an elementary school."

Supporters of the bill say it is necessary to do whatever it takes to develop America's fuel supply and create revenue for the state. Guest argues that there is little oil off the Florida coastline, and its development could be harmful not only to the environment, but to the Florida tourist and fishing industries.

The measure was tacked onto a barely-noticed bill in the waning hours of the legislative session. Guest says it was done deliberately, to limit public input and debate.

"This is a stealth amendment that obviously has been in the works for a really long time. This is how legislatures work when the system is broken."

Just four years ago, Guest points out that Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet signed a landmark deal to buy back two offshore drilling leases on the Gulf Coast for $12.5 million, protecting the coastline from Apalachicola to Naples. It is protection that could be undone, he warns, if the new legislation passes.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL