WASHINGTON — Marco Rubio joined the call Tuesday for a swift investigation into the "horrifying" BP oil disaster but said he still supports offshore drilling as part of an overall energy strategy.
"The issue of offshore drilling is not going away, because America and the world depends heavily on petroleum products," the Republican U.S. Senate candidate told the St. Petersburg Times.
Rubio immediately offered caveats, saying drilling must be done safely and in conjunction with alternative energy and other sources.
But he held firm to his position even as other Florida politicians, including his main Senate rival, Gov. Charlie Crist, have cited the oil spill as clear evidence against more drilling.
"No serious policymaker will tell you that" even with alternative energy improvements "America can become energy independent in the near future. We hope to get there. I believe in that," Rubio said, adding: "But in the short term, there's the reality about how dependent we and the world are on petroleum, whether we like it or not. We've got to answer the question about how dependent on foreign sources we're willing to become."
Rubio said his position remains that nothing should move forward until the reasons for the spill are fully known and preventative measures are in place.
"The reality is there is a ton of rigs operating," Rubio said. "The record tells us they are pretty safe. This is a rare although unacceptable occurrence."
Crist, who had been long against drilling, came out in favor of it while he was seeking to become John McCain's running mate in 2008. Now, after the spill, Crist is against drilling once again.
"I think his response in terms of future offshore drilling has been politicized just like it was two years ago," Rubio said.
The leading Democrat in the Senate race, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, opposes more drilling.
Echoing Rubio's sentiment Tuesday was Florida Republican Sen. George LeMieux, appointed to the position by Crist when Mel Martinez resigned.
"We just need to make sure that drilling is as safe as possible" said LeMieux, who wants to halt things until the BP crisis is averted and understood.
Reminded that Crist and some other Florida politicians have said no new drilling, no matter what, LeMieux replied, "Forever? Of course not. That wouldn't be responsible."
Alex Leary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org