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C.T. Bowen: Backing oil drilling in gulf needs rethinking

Commissioner Jack Mariano arrived to spin. Um, talk. Considering the topic, drill might have been more appropriate.

Had the first-term commissioner looked at the calendar, he could have offered a better defense. Our conversation was Tuesday, April 1. You kind of kept waiting for him to jump up from behind the conference table and proclaim, "Pasco, you've been punked.''

Except he didn't.

No April Fool's Day frivolity. He dryly articulated why he is now on record opposing efforts to stem the potential of future oil drilling off Florida's coast. His position brought him kudos from a couple of letter writers to this newspaper and universal scorn from his election opponents.

Here is a guy, who earns income for pushing gas-guzzling luxury cars, saying the feds don't need input from county commissioners when deciding the wisdom of expanding oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. No wonder he is getting beat up.

The resolution a week earlier was number four of 13 considered by the Pasco commission. Amid the accolades for safe bus drivers, retiring employees, new Eagle Scouts and designation of Greek Independence Day and National Public Telecommunications Week came an offering from Commissioner Michael Cox, "urging the United States Congress to demonstrate unified resistance against any attempts to allow oil or gas drilling along Florida's coastline.''

Mariano objected to one of the "whereas'' statements: "The aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrated the short-term economic and long-term ecological risk of placing additional drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.''

No oil spilled during the hurricanes, Mariano stated. The resolution doesn't say it did. It says there are risks if you place more drills in the gulf, an area frequently in the path of summertime tropical storms and hurricanes. And, let's face it, gasoline prices jumped as much as 40 cents a gallon in the days after Katrina interrupted oil production in the gulf. Certainly, short-term economic risks are not in dispute.

Mariano said he found the resolution flawed, arguing it superseded the state's position and it is an issue left to the federal government.

His logic, however, is contradictory. Mariano is a leading proponent of legislation creating a national catastrophic insurance fund. Its sponsor is Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite. Though it is a federal issue, Mariano has lobbied for the legislation and asked fellow commissioners to endorse a resolution supporting the national fund.

If Mariano truly believes local governments shouldn't intercede in national issues, he'd drop his national catastrophic insurance fund campaign. He won't because he knows homeowner insurance premium relief is vital to the long-term economic well-being of his Pasco County constituents.

I'm guessing a number of his constituents also consider the tourism industry vital to their economic well-being. That is the inherent risk of oil drilling off the coast. If there is an accident, business tanks at the beaches, motels, charter fishing boats, sunset cruises, swimsuit and T-shirt stores, restaurants, bars and other retailers. The Gulf Coast's share of Florida's multibillion-dollar tourism industry could go elsewhere.

Mariano, as chairman of the county's Tourist Development Council, should be cognizant of these risks. "It's only natural'' won't be much of a tourism slogan if its accompanied by images of oil-coated water fowl.

Mariano moved to Florida nine years before his 2004 election to the County Commission. Had he lived here in 1993, he might have a different perspective. An Aug. 10 1993, a shipping collision spilled more than 328,000 gallons of oil into Tampa Bay. The disaster damaged the environment, sent would-be vacationers elsewhere and brought prolonged complaints of coastal pollution every time an offshore storm churned up the spilled oil. The U.S. Small Business Administration set up shop to process loans for South Pinellas merchants hurt by the fall out.

Eleven months later, our family traveled to the Treasure Island for a July 4th beach getaway. We played in the water with the then 14-month-old offspring and when we emerged from the surf, our suits were spotted black with oil. We spent the rest of the weekend at the motel pool.

If Mariano thinks the resolution is flawed, he should think a little harder about the potential of his constituents trying to lure tourists to an oil-stained coastline.

C.T. Bowen: Backing oil drilling in gulf needs rethinking 04/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 5:11pm]

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