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Date of Issue: April 02, 2008

Bennett seeks united front against drilling

Anna Maria Island’s state senator wants a “unified resistance” to proposals weakening protections against drilling off Florida’s coast.

State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has introduced Senate Bill 426, which would send a message that Florida’s lawmakers want federal lawmakers to stand against any attempt to allow oil or gas drilling along the state’s coast.

Oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coast is an issue that has repeatedly come up in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., in recent years.

In 2006, Congress voted to lift a 25-year ban on drilling in an area 125 miles south of the Florida Panhandle, but extended to 2022 a moratorium on drilling in other Florida waters.

More recently, in mid-March, the U.S. Senate voted down an amendment to a budget resolution that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said could have opened the coastline to drilling. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama voted against the amendment. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, voted for the amendment.

Bennett, in his bill, stated that “one major oil spill off the coast of Florida, which is always a possibility regardless of advances in safety and engineering, would jeopardize Florida’s multi-billion-dollar tourism industry.”

The senator pointed out that the damage to oil drilling operations caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrated the economic and ecological risks of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and that even routine offshore operations discharge “thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into surrounding waters, smother bottom-dwelling organisms and seagrasses with cuttings and debris and generate large amounts of air pollution.”

The measure, currently before the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, has the support of the local ManaSota-88 environmental defense group.

“Oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida will be in conflict with existing federal marine-protection provisions,” said Glenn Compton, chair of ManaSota-88.

Compton stressed that already “pollution of water resources, degradation of important marine habitats and habitat loss continue at an unacceptable rate in Gulf coastal states.”

Audubon of Florida also supports Bennett’s bill, but deputy director for policy Eric Draper expressed uncertainty that the bill will move to the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, on Anna Maria Island’s coastline last week, beachgoers seemed 100 percent in favor of keeping drilling operations away.

“I don’t know what can be done about China and Cuba drilling out there, but we sure should stop our Congress from ruining our coasts,” said Beverly Levy of Anna Maria and Boston.