Gov. Rick Scott had a hard time this week getting his story straight on whether he is open to expanding oil drilling in the Everglades. He could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he would have delivered the correct one-word answer: no. • In an appearance before the Economics Club of Florida, Scott was asked whether he agreed with a suggestion by Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann to consider expanded drilling in the Everglades. Scott hedged his answer by noting that the Collier family has drilled on land near the Everglades since 1943. "We already have drilling in the Everglades; we already have oil wells," he said before adding, "I think we have to be very cautious if there's going to be any more drilling."
The governor should have said the current drilling is a fluke of history, and that expanding it is out of the question given the dangers it would pose to an ecosystem that provides millions in South Florida with drinking water, tourist dollars and flood protection. The Colliers began drilling on the land before it was declared an area of vital concern. When Congress created the Big Cypress National Preserve in the 1970s, the family was allowed to keep its mineral rights as part of the political compromise. Later, the federal government under then-President George W. Bush tried to buy out the family's mineral rights, but Congress refused to provide the money. So contrary to Scott's inference, this hardly is accepted as oil country.
It's one thing when national candidates who know Florida only as a drive-by destination for campaign cash offer crazy ideas for the state. Bachmann started backtracking and explaining pretty quickly after saying she would consider drilling in the Everglades if it were done responsibly, which no responsible steward of the land would dare propose.
It's another matter altogether when the governor lends his voice and his office to that same agenda. Scott's press office was quick to "clarify" that the governor had no plans to put expanded drilling on the table. But his comment was entirely in line with his statements both before and after taking office that drilling should be an option so long that it meets some vague standard of safety. Environmentalists were wise to call him on it, and Scott could have avoided further eroding his credibility on protecting the state's natural resources if he had given the right answer the first time.