State Senate President Jeff Atwater is slowing down the oil rush in Tallahassee by insisting on gathering facts before putting the state's beaches and economic health at risk. As a secretive oil group lobbies legislators to open up state waters for oil exploration with wild projections about state revenue and virtually risk-free drilling, the North Palm Beach Republican is smartly organizing a more deliberative approach.
This week, Atwater announced that the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee will take a detailed and comprehensive look at the implications of offshore drilling. He has enlisted neutral and fair-minded allies: Florida State University's Institute for Energy Systems, Economics and Sustainability; the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida — which is chaired by outgoing St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker; the Collins Center for Public Policy; and the resources of the Legislature's Office of Economic & Demographic Research. Among the areas expected to be covered: the potential for finding oil, the environmental impact and the potential economic issues.
It will be helpful to gather objective information from independent sources instead of relying on the army of lobbyists and public relations consultants who have been bought and paid for by the oil industry. The ban on drilling in state waters has been in place for 20 years, and no one should be in any rush to lift it no matter how much money is on the table.