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Pasco commissioner's oil stance stains his green image

Pasco Commission Chairman Jack Mariano is a study in contradictions.

Consider his Tuesday morning: He said he was excited about Wesley Chapel to Tampa being designated as the first segment for light rail service under the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Authority's mass transit plan. A few minutes later he said he looked forward to working with Progress Energy to try to assist low-income residents to obtain solar panels. Still later, he touted the county's toilet rebate program to Tampa Bay Water.

Curbing commuter congestion. Promoting renewable energy. Saving natural resources. The guy probably hugged a tree on the way in.

Too bad this sentiment doesn't extend to the Gulf of Mexico.

For the second consecutive year, Mariano objected to a commission resolution asking Congress to ban oil and gas drilling from the vicinity of Florida's coastline. A year ago, he was out-voted 4-1. Tuesday, the resolution was yanked from the commission agenda, but Mariano told me beforehand he again objected to its contents.

"I want us to hear the truth, not further lies,'' he said.

Mariano balked at this line in the resolution: "The aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita demonstrated the short-term economic and long-term ecological risks of placing additional drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.''

Mariano contended that is not true and said "the damage was nonsubstantial from what I can see.'' Later, he said he focused exclusively on oil drilling rigs.

Some focus. The Minerals Management Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of the Interior, did its own tally after Katrina and Rita tore through the Gulf of Mexico in 2005. Here's what the federal government reported in 2006: 113 platforms destroyed, 457 pipelines damaged, 146 oil spills including six spills of at least 1,000 barrels.

(This is nothing new, incidentally. The data has been available for nearly three years but gained widespread notoriety during the 2008 presidential campaign.)

The hurricanes' damage interrupted oil production and brought fluctuating prices at the pump, including a jump of 40 cents a gallon in the days after Katrina. But such concerns took a back seat when the price of a gallon of gasoline topped $4 last year. Gov. Charlie Crist flipped on the long-term efforts to keep drilling rigs from Florida's coast, and U.S. Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign adopted "Drill Baby Drill'' as its key energy plank.

Mariano shouldn't take comfort that it was the oil production platforms and pipeline infrastructure that took the brunt of the damage. Nor is it wise to take solace in the fact the federal agency did not note an impact on wildlife and the coastline from the spills.

Spills totaling thousands of barrels — a barrel contains 42 gallons — are a fact. Adding more drill operations does not lessen the ecological risks. The short-term economic risks are documented by the rising gas prices after Katrina.

These are not lies. Mariano is still attached to a failed political ploy from the 2008 Republican national campaign. Florida's coastal waters and multibillion-dollar tourism industry aren't worth the risks of oil drilling even at 10 miles offshore.

Mariano's other strategy to "let them (Congress) decide'' is not leadership. He and the commission routinely adopt resolutions urging state and national action, including immediate commission objection to proposed cap-and-trade legislation earlier this year after a five-minute presentation from the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative. If it was okay to interject then, why is it not appropriate now?

Mariano should stick to advocacy for mass transit, alternative energy sources and saving natural resources. The green image he projects is flawed by its oil stains.

Pasco commissioner's oil stance stains his green image 07/28/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 6:56pm]
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