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After latest oil drilling report, Florida representatives have questions for feds

In a letter to the Department of Interior, they demand answers on the possibility of drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

A group of representatives have responded to a news report last week that the federal government could allow oil drilling off the coast of Florida with a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt demanding clarification.

“Florida relies on coastlines unencumbered by oil and gas drilling to sustain its economy, preserve its marine life and natural resources, and protect our national security,” the lawmakers wrote, including Rep. Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat; Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a Palm Harbor Republican; Rep. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg Democrat; and Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Longboat Key Republican.

They were responding to a report from Politico that the Department of Interior might look to allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, an area where a moratorium currently prohibits the practice until 2022.

In their letter, they asked for an update on the federal agencies’ proposed leasing program and clarity on whether officials would consider leaving areas closest to Florida out of the plan. They also asked if the Interior Secretary would back legislation passed by the House of Representatives that would forever block drilling near the Florida coast.

Across parties, the state’s federal delegation — including Republican Sens. Rick Scott and Marco Rubio — oppose oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. They worry about spills and frequently cite the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

President Donald Trump’s administration has signaled it plans to expand oil drilling. The letter Monday was backed by political opponents, including potential Democratic vice presidential candidate Rep. Val Demings, of Orlando, and Trump allies like Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican of Fort Walton Beach.

In response to the Politico report last week, which suggested the Department of Interior was delaying the release of the proposal because of concerns about the election, the agency said it was not planning to release a report in November.

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