Nelson Promises Filibuster If House Passes Offshore Drilling Bill

Nelson Promises Filibuster If House Passes Offshore Drilling Bill

If the House passes an offshore drilling bill that has split Florida’s congressional delegation, Sen. Bill Nelson said Monday that he would filibuster the measure in an effort to block it in the Senate.

A House vote is expected this week on the bill that would end a 25-year ban on drilling off much of the nation’s coastline and could bring rigs as close as 50 miles from Florida’s beaches. It would, however, allow states to bring drilling closer than 50 miles or extend the buffer to 100 miles out.

Rising fuel prices have increased support for drilling in environmentally sensitive areas, and the bill last week cleared the House Resources Committee 29-9 with bipartisan support.

“Some of the pro-oil boys may well try to bring the House bill directly to the floor of the Senate,” Nelson said in a telephone interview. “If that’s the case, then we’ll have to filibuster the bill.”

Nelson, D-Fla., Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla, all seven of Florida’s House Democrats and at least four of the state’s 18 House Republicans have voiced opposition to the measure that Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, negotiated with House Resources Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif. It is expected to draw support from several other Florida Republicans.

Martinez may join Nelson in trying to talk the bill to death if it comes up in the Senate, but “he’s going to keep his options open on that,” said Martinez spokesman Ken Lundberg. He added, though, that his boss believes “the House plan is not where Florida should be.”

It takes 60 votes in the 100-seat Senate to halt a filibuster. Gov. Jeb Bush supported a similar compromise that failed last year because he was afraid Congress will refuse to continue the existing moratoriums when they expire in 2007 and 2012.

“I’m not supporting the bill, I’m supporting the concept of providing greater security for Florida’s shorelines,” Bush said. Bush also likes the idea of giving states a role in deciding where the drilling line should be drawn.

“The notion that somehow Washington knows what’s best for our state is one that I’ve never adhered to,” Bush said.

The bill also offers states an incentive to permit drilling by rewarding them with a share of the federal government’s oil and gas royalties.

Nelson and Martinez have introduced their own compromise. It would allow some drilling in Lease Area 181 at least 100 miles south of the Florida Panhandle, keep other drilling at least 150 miles off shore and prohibit rigs east of a military mission line in the Gulf of Mexico.

The line, running south from the Fort Walton Beach area in the Panhandle, is about 235 miles west of Clearwater and marks the western boundary of an area used for military training and weapons testing.

The House bill does not draw such a line but includes language based on an existing agreement that requires the secretaries of defense and interior to jointly decide where drilling should be allowed, said Dan McFaul, a spokesman for Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Chumuckla. If the secretaries cannot agree, the president would decide.

Miller, whose district includes five Panhandle military bases, believes it is sufficient protection and supports the bill, McFaul said.

Nelson disagrees. “I don’t see any reason to sacrifice our military preparedness in the middle of a war, nor do I see any reason to sacrifice a $57 billion-a-year tourism industry that depends on pristine beaches,” Nelson said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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