Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio open to more oil drilling as issue gains attention in Florida

Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush want to expand oil exploration off both Florida coasts.
Published May 28 2015
Updated May 29 2015

Efforts to open oil drilling off both Florida coasts could inject the issue into the race for president, and home state contenders Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are supportive of more production.

Neither Republican appears receptive to legislation that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., filed last week to block a proposal from gulf state lawmakers that would end the ban on drilling within a certain distance of the coast.

The current prohibition, ranging from 125 miles to 235 miles, expires in 2022. It was established in 2006.

Proponents, led by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., say more drilling would create jobs and they play down environmental impacts. The proposal would allow rigs as close as 50 miles.

Nelson last week declared that Florida is "under siege" and filed counter legislation that would extend the ban to 2027.

"We're still reviewing the bill, but Sen. Rubio supports developing our domestic energy resources responsibly and effectively, including offshore drilling and oil exploration," Rubio spokeswoman Brooke Sammon said.

As governor, Bush helped fight efforts to encroach on Florida's shores. But he, too, sounds more open to the idea.

"Gov. Bush believes in opening up federal lands and water for drilling in a thoughtful way, in order to enhance America's energy security," spokeswoman Allie Brandenburger said.

"As governor, he worked to strike a balance between promoting and protecting different economic and state interests in Florida, including tourism, energy development and military readiness," she added.

"Expanding domestic energy production is key to ensuring America's energy security and with input from state leaders, we now have a chance to create a national energy plan to reform the leasing system to expand drilling in areas where it is safe."

Nelson also raised fears about the Atlantic coast, where the 2022 moratorium does not apply.

The Obama administration moved in 2014 to allow oil and gas explorers to conduct seismic tests off Florida's Atlantic coast.

"It would interfere with military operations off of Jacksonville and rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center and Patrick Air Force Base, not to mention the environmental hazards it would pose," Nelson recently said. "If you're not going to drill there, then why do the seismic testing?"

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in an interview that the Interior Department's procedures for issuing permits has "been informed by the need to put in place even more rigorous safety standards" since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion spilled 200 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil drilling has long been a dicey political issue in Florida, a state highly dependent on its tourism economy. The 2010 spill remains a fresh reminder of what can go wrong.

But the once unified stance by Florida officials against drilling has softened in recent years.

In 2008 then-candidate Barack Obama supported the ban but then shifted positions amid soaring gas prices.

The Tampa Bay Times asked for Hillary Clinton's views — she has attended fundraisers in Florida on Thursday and has more today — and her campaign declined to answer several requests for comment.

Contact Alex Leary at Follow @learyreports.