House panel feels state is spoiler for oil drilling

House panel feels state is spoiler for oil drilling

Florida’s determination to block oil drilling close to its coastline irritates some members of Congress. And this week they weren’t shy about expressing their frustration, with one House member asking how the state can ”dictate to America” where to drill.

Colleen Castille, secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, took a drubbing Wednesday from members of the House Resources Committee as they reviewed the latest gambit to open offshore waters to drilling — offer states a share of the royalties if they agree to permit energy exploration along their coasts.

Though Castille said her boss, Gov. Jeb Bush, isn’t necessarily opposed to the legislation — provided it gives Florida a significant buffer — the state’s no-drill position came under fire from lawmakers who want to open the outer continental shelf to drilling but have been thwarted by the governor and the Florida congressional delegation.

”Your boss, Gov. Jeb Bush, has kept us from an adequate energy supply in this country. I find it unacceptable that we have been negotiating with one state,” groused Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., who has suggested Florida’s opposition to energy exploration is ”astounding” when Cuba is looking to drill for oil in its waters, less than 50 miles from Key West.

”For Florida to be playing scare tactics about energy exploration beyond its shores, we should be beyond that,” Peterson said.

The Florida governor was undeterred Thursday, saying in Tallahassee that he’s opposed to drilling within 125 miles of the shoreline.

”Congressman Peterson from Pennsylvania believes that we should open up our coastline, and I don’t,” Bush said, referring to Peterson’s desire to allow for exploration within 20 miles of shore. “I think you can find middle ground. Which is the duty of people in Washington, to find consensus and middle ground.”

Earlier, Peterson said he wished the ”White House staff would get their heads out of the Florida sand,” suggesting that the Department of Interior’s objection to the drilling legislation had its roots in Florida’s political clout.

The exchange underscores the political tussle over drilling that crosses party lines. But supporters of drilling are up against a still largely united front in Florida — home, as Castille put it, to ”825 miles of unspoiled sugar-white beaches,” which Florida officials fear would be marred by drilling.

Weighing in after Peterson was Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Democrat from Louisiana, a state that permits offshore drilling. He questioned how Florida could lay claim to large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil industry has eagerly eyed Lease Sale Area 181, a sprawling, natural gas-rich region of the Gulf off Florida’s Panhandle, saying exploration there could alleviate the nation’s energy crunch.

”How can Florida . . . dictate to America where we drill when the natural resources belong to the United States?” Melancon asked.

His fellow Louisianan, Rep. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, has proposed legislation to lift drilling bans that cover the outer continental shelf, along the nation’s coastline. It would require states to petition the federal government to keep the drilling ban intact.


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