By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday downplayed growing concerns that President Donald Trump is putting Florida’s coastal waters back in play for oil exploration.
A political ally of the president, DeSantis said he will “be raising Cain” if drilling plans advance that include Florida waters, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico Range Complex, a military testing range that stretches from the Florida Panhandle to Key West.
DeSantis said he anticipates “accommodations” will be made to shield Florida from drilling, as was first announced early last year by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
“We’re just not a state for that,” DeSantis told reporters after an appearance at the Tampa Bay Christian Academy in Tampa. “I think for other states there may be a different calculation. But for us, you know our entire state is coastline. You have a mishap; it has a cascading effect. Whatever jobs would be created (by drilling) could be undercut by chilling tourism.”
DeSantis added he wasn’t worried, noting Trump “understands where Floridians are on this” because he is “an oceanfront homeowner in Florida,” alluding to property the president owns in Palm Beach County.
DeSantis also agreed with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s assertion that recently confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt won’t expand energy exploration off the Florida coast. Prior to Bernhardt’s confirmation vote last Wednesday, Rubio, a Miami-Dade County Republican, said the White House must follow legal requirements before finalizing a five-year oil and gas drilling plan.
“He is well aware of Florida’s unique and vulnerable coastal character and that most Floridians are opposed to allowing offshore drilling off of the state’s coasts,” Rubio said of Bernhardt in a prepared statement. “He confirmed that input from state delegations and governors is one of the most important factors, and our state’s congressional delegation and Gov. DeSantis stand united in opposition to Florida’s inclusion.”
Rubio added that he doesn’t anticipate Bernhardt or the White House would work against his effort to extend the offshore drilling moratorium in the eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond its current expiration in 2022.
Despite Zinke’s assurance to then-Gov. Rick Scott that Florida would not be included in the White House drilling plans, the removal was never made official.
And last week, as Bernhardt moved closer to confirmation, word grew of oil-industry lobbying efforts to access the eastern Gulf of Mexico waters to boost U.S. energy production.
David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, told the Florida Senate Military and Veterans Affairs and Space Committee last week drilling wouldn’t change any of the risks of military-base realignment that installations in Florida already face.
“We as Floridians need to reassess where we are associated with the production of energy, recognizing the treasures that we have in our environment … recognizing the importance of our defense industry here in Florida, the growth of that defense, the protections that they afford us with regard to national security, but also associated with the positive energy development that is potentially available to us,” Mica said.
The backlash to the latest reports on opening Florida waters was immediate from environmentalists and politicians on both sides of the aisle in Florida.
“Drilling the coasts of Florida should be off limits, period,” Sierra Club National Political Director Ariel Hayes said in a statement. “Even some of Trump’s biggest supporters recognize that his reckless insistence on drilling may be as perilous for his future as it is for Florida. This is a toxic reminder that Trump is willing to sacrifice the health and safety of Floridians, along with their tourism and fishing industries, just to help a few politically powerful oil companies make a quick profit.”
A pair of Republican-backed resolutions (HB 1379 and SB 1820) are moving in the Legislature that ask the federal government to extend the current moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico Range Complex.
The full House is expected to take up the issue Wednesday, while the Senate version of the resolution is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Rules Committee.