Republicans in the Florida House voted in near lockstep Monday to sell off the state's coastline to the highest bidder seeking oil or natural gas. It is hard to imagine a more apt case for explaining why citizens remain so cynical about their government.
The proposal to allow drilling at 3 miles from the beach is far more radical than anything contemplated in decades. A plan to allow drilling much farther from shore locked up Congress for weeks last year as it emerged in the presidential campaign. But Florida House members voted 70-43 after just seven days to sell the shoreline to companies who have yet to identify themselves for an environmental cost not fully debated. The only hope now is that the Senate and Gov. Charlie Crist will be more deliberative and let this special interest legislation die.
Republicans sold the measure as a step toward energy independence and even contended that those opposed — such as Democratic Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — were interested in continuing America's dependence on foreign oil. Such a charge is preposterous. No one predicts that tapping Florida's reserves will significantly change the balance of world fuel production. Plus, the House has refused to hear the governor's plan to foster renewable energy — which is aimed toward weaning the state off fossil fuels.
In fact, both Sink and Nelson raised questions about what drilling might mean for Florida's tourism economy, its environment and its military activities. The very fact that any dissent is met with such rhetoric further underscores that politics — not sound policy — is under way.
It's true that Rep. Charles Van Zant, R-Palatka, filed legislation in February to consider offshore drilling. But like hundreds of bills, House Bill 1219 received little attention until it gained an important ally: Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Orlando, the supposed House speaker in 2010. Last week, Cannon sprung an amendment that would require the governor and Cabinet to accept $1 million application fees from bidders interested in exploring state-controlled waters that stretch to 10 miles offshore. If a bid is accepted, the state would require a $500 million bond before drilling and one-eighth of royalties.
There is no doubt Florida could use the income. But that too is a suspect pledge. There are no guarantees when or if significant money would arrive. And there's not been nearly enough debate about what Florida would sacrifice in return. Three Tampa Bay area Republicans are to be commended for joining Democrats in opposing the bill: Jim Frishe of Belleair Bluffs, Bill Galvano of Bradenton and Ed Hooper of Clearwater.
The lack of process, "whether you support or oppose this, should offend every person in this room," Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, said on the House floor Monday. It should also offend everyone in Florida.