Florida’s two U.S. senators are pushing their colleagues this week to ban companies from drilling for oil in the east Gulf of Mexico for another decade, a moratorium that would extend well beyond President Donald Trump’s time in office.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are hoping to tack the proposal onto a sweeping energy bill that is quickly moving through the U.S. Senate and could be voted on this week. The existing moratorium is set to expire in June 2022 and the amendment offered by the two Republicans would extend that by 10 years.
The amendment, if it passes, would tie the hands of the Trump administration, which has waffled back and forth on whether to open Florida’s west coast to drilling. Rubio has insisted he has assurances from the White House that it wouldn’t take that step, but he is nevertheless seeking a more firm guarantee.
Scott “hopes his colleagues will understand the strategic significance of military training programs that take place in the Gulf of Mexico and the need to protect Florida’s Gulf Coast,” his spokesman Chris Hartline said.
The proposed extension is far less than what House Democrats and some Republicans have called for. Last year, the House passed a permanent ban on drilling off Florida’s west coast in a vote that won support from both parties.
“We could enact this into law if they would vote on what the House already passed on a bipartisan basis,” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. “Otherwise, 10 years from now we we would be at risk again. I don’t think that’s a good solution.”
A permanent ban faces a steep uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Senate and Rubio has said a 10-year extension, while less ideal, would still be a win given these political realities. It’s not clear if the amendment from Florida’s Republican senators will pass or even get a vote, though Rubio has previously expressed optimism that Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is open to the idea.
Differences between the House and Senate aside, there is near unanimous opposition to oil rigs in the east Gulf among Florida Democrats and Republicans in Congress. The permanent ban that passed the House last year was sponsored by Naples Republican Rep. Francis Rooney and it had support from the entire Florida delegation except Republican Rep. Ted Yoho, who voted “no.”
Even Scott, once a proponent of offshore drilling, has come around. It’s a reflection of the changing politics of this fight in the decade since the BP oil spill tarred the gulf waters and wildlife and devastated Florida’s tourism economy.
Trump’s administration, though, has sent mixed messages as it treads the delicate politics of offshore drilling in a state critical to his reelection chances. Trump’s ex-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke once promised that Florida’s coast was off-limits, but he later backtracked and it was never formalized. He has since left the office.
Rubio recently held up the nomination of Katharine MacGregor as deputy secretary of the interior over these concerns. MacGregor has been involved in developing the administration’s Five-Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Program which will decide in which waters oil and gas companies will be able to drill.
Rubio lifted the hold after his office met with MacGregor and she was later confirmed by the Senate.
“I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and the Trump administration to extend the offshore drilling moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond its current expiration in 2022," Rubio said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. "When all is said and done, I am confident that the ban on oil drilling off of Florida’s coasts will remain in place.”