House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon's attempt to pitch his legislation to open waters off Florida's shores to drilling as the beginning of a "mature, thoughtful conversation" about the state's energy future is an insult to Floridians and disingenuous. House Republican leaders are showing a shameless willingness to put the interests of a powerful industry over their constituents' in pursuit of an easy buck.
Cannon, R-Orlando, sprang the radical idea to allow oil rigs within 3 miles of the coast in the eighth week of a nine-week legislative session. And he did it even as the House has failed to consider the governor's plan to foster renewable energy. Florida needs more than 10 days to consider changing a law that has protected its shores for decades, and the Senate and governor should reject it.
Clearly, Associated Industries of Florida has been working with Cannon for weeks to try to reverse a 20-year drilling ban — though Cannon unveiled it just 12 hours before it passed a House council Tuesday. A pollster hired to do a survey, an industry expert from Texas and an Orlando economist touting potential revenue all testified. Cannon contended HB 1219 is merely an attempt "to have a mature, thoughtful conversation about what we want to do about this." So why is the public just now hearing about it?
The answer: The industry is preying on Tallahassee's desperation for new revenue that doesn't involve raising taxes. And it's hoping to avoid scrutiny for a plan that does nothing for the state's current fiscal crisis, endangers pristine beaches and does little to solve America's energy problems.
Cannon's plan 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.
Industry officials contend new technology greatly reduces potential for environmental hazards. And they happily note there were no major problems from offshore platforms from Hurricane Katrina. But Louisiana officials say 8.2 million gallons of oil were spilled during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including damage the storms did to onshore storage sites and pipelines. That infrastructure would likely grow in Florida if offshore drilling began within 10 miles of the coast.
It would be years before Florida would reap significant financial rewards from drilling, which would do little to lessen the nation's dependence on foreign oil. Cannon notes his bill doesn't require drilling — the governor and Cabinet could reject bids "contrary to the public welfare." But that is a dramatically weaker standard than most state environmental protections where applicants must prove plans won't harm the environment.
The Republican's late-session surprise appears to be a politically calculated move to appeal to an industry with deep pockets, and it would put Florida at unnecessary risk. It hardly reflects the caliber of public policy or leadership expected from a lawmaker who aspires to hold one of the most powerful political offices in the state.