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Bush prodded to oppose drilling

Florida's congressional delegation is asking Gov.-elect Jeb Bush to oppose a Chevron U.S.A. proposal to put natural gas wells 25 miles south of Pensacola Beach.

They would be the first production rigs off Florida's coastline.

U.S. Commerce Department Secretary William Daley has the power to overrule the state's decision to block Chevron's drilling plan. Chevron appealed to Daley after the Florida Department of Community Affairs ruled in February that the proposed drilling is inconsistent with the state's Coastal Management Plan.

Daley's ruling could be critical. If the state's decision is overturned, it could damage Florida's ability to control drilling off its coastline. If it is upheld, it could close the door on offshore drilling.

More than 15,000 cards and letters have been sent to Daley urging him to uphold the state's ruling.

Opponents of the Chevron plan say offshore drilling accidents could impact tourism, the largest industry in the state. About 47-million tourists visited Florida in 1997, contributing $41-billion to the state's economy.

So U.S. Sens. Connie Mack, R-Cape Coral, and Bob Graham, D-Miami Lakes, and most of Florida's representatives in Washington signed a six-paragraph letter that asked Bush to be more vocal in his opposition to offshore drilling.

U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, who is on Bush's inaugural committee, was among those signing up. In addition, Scarborough said he has talked with Bush about the Chevron proposal.

Scarborough declined to discuss specifics of the conversation but said, "I've got to tell you, I had a level of comfort with him that he understood the importance of this issue to both myself and the residents of northwest Florida."

The late Gov. Lawton Chiles led state efforts to fight the Chevron plan, and in a letter to the congressional delegation in December, Bush said he would do the same.

"I oppose all offshore drilling in the waters off Florida's coastline," Bush wrote.

U.S. Rep. Charles Canady, R-Lakeland, was the lone House member who did not sign the letter. A spokeswoman in his office said Tuesday that Canady, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, hadn't had the time to review it because it was circulated during the presidential impeachment debates.

But Canady did join the state's 22 other House members in July when the delegation sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce supporting the state agency's decision to block Chevron from drilling the wells.

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