A bipartisan coalition of Tampa Bay area lawmakers urged President Joe Biden last week to prevent new offshore drilling leases as a key decision determining future Gulf of Mexico oil extraction looms on the horizon.
More than 100 elected officials nationwide, including eight state and local leaders representing Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, underscored in a letter to the president the risks of opening up the gulf to more oil drilling.
“Drilling pollutes our air with toxic emissions, causing asthma, lung cancer, and other diseases. For too long, the Gulf Coast has been the nation’s sacrifice zone and Gulf communities have borne the brunt of the fallout from U.S. oil and gas drilling,” wrote the lawmakers, who cited the damage from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster that plagued their hometown shorelines.
“Oil from the spill tarred hundreds of miles of Gulf coast shoreline stretching from Texas to Florida and devastated coastal economies,” they wrote.
The letter precedes the Biden administration’s upcoming National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2023-2028, commonly referred to as the “Five-Year Plan.” The plan is expected to be released in September and will outline where the feds will sell offshore drilling leases for the next half-decade.
Tampa Bay’s state representatives from both sides of the political aisle signed on in opposition to new drilling, including: St. Petersburg Democratic Reps. Lindsay Cross and Michele Rayner-Goolsby, and St. Pete Beach Republican Rep. Linda Chaney. Five local elected officials from Clearwater, St. Pete Beach, Dunedin and St. Petersburg also expressed their opposition to new leases.
“The more we open up new places to oil and gas leasing for drilling, it just further entrenches us in the use of fossil fuels, which are dirty, which produce emissions and are responsible for the effects of climate change that we’re experiencing,” Cross told the Tampa Bay Times in a phone interview Friday.
“The time to act on climate and to switch to a clean, renewable energy future was years ago. Just like the best time to plant a tree was decades ago,” Cross said. “But the second-best time to do it is now. We have to act now.”
In 2020, while campaigning for president, Biden committed to no new oil drilling in the gulf. Now, two Pinellas County cities, Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach, want to hold him to that promise: Both cities approved resolutions in recent weeks cementing their opposition to new offshore oil drilling leases.
It would be “more economically and ecologically responsible” to pursue nonpolluting sources of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, that pose less risk to the coastal environment and economic health, reads the St. Pete Beach resolution, signed by Mayor Adrian Petrila on June 29. Treasure Island commissioners approved their own resolution on July 18.
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Overall, 28 mayors and 12 state legislators from 15 states signed on to the letter, which was organized by ocean conservation nonprofit Oceana. The group in a 2021 analysis determined that shielding all unleased federal waters from offshore drilling nationwide could prevent more than 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, or the same as taking every car in the U.S. off the road for 15 years.
Oceana also claims that of the 11 million acres the oil industry has leased in the ocean, 75% are currently unused. Advocates point to that statistic when questioning why more leases would need to be added under the Five-Year Plan.
“We must immediately stop the expansion of dirty and dangerous offshore drilling to protect our oceans, coastal economies, and frontline communities who bear the brunt of its disastrous impact,” Michael Messmer, Oceana’s acting campaign director, said in a prepared statement to the Times.
“It’s heartening to see bipartisan elected officials from coastal communities and beyond use their voices to advocate for this important goal. President Biden must uphold his promise to prevent new offshore drilling.”