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  1. Florida Politics

Trump's offshore drilling plan triggers objections in Florida and Tampa Bay

A worker in 2010 uses a suction hose to remove oil washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon spill, in Belle Terre, La. Tampa Bay leaders recalled the spill in their criticism over a Trump administration plan to open the door to offshore drilling in areas including waters near Florida's coast. [ERIC GAY | AP]
A worker in 2010 uses a suction hose to remove oil washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon spill, in Belle Terre, La. Tampa Bay leaders recalled the spill in their criticism over a Trump administration plan to open the door to offshore drilling in areas including waters near Florida's coast. [ERIC GAY | AP]
Published Jan. 4, 2018

A Trump administration plan announced Thursday to begin selling offshore drilling leases in many waters where they were previously banned drew heavy criticism from Florida and Tampa Bay leaders.

Some lambasted President Donald Trump and the decision, while others only called to extend the ban specifically along Florida's waters.

The threat of drilling off the state's shores was unacceptable, Gov. Rick Scott said.

"I have already asked to immediately meet with (U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke) to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration." Scott added that protecting Florida's natural resources was his top priority.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman used blunter language, saying his initial reaction was "outrage" and that both Republicans and Democrats agree the move is "stupid."

"I'm really just disgusted that we're even having to have this conversation again," said Kriseman, a Democrat. "You don't have to look back too many years to the BP oil spill," referencing the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in 2010, flooding the Gulf of Mexico with petroleum.

Kriseman warned that any spill, no matter where, affects tourism across the state.

"Why is he even doing this?" he asked of President Trump.

Across the bay, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said it was the latest in many "bad decisions that (Trump) has made over the last year."

"I'm certain he doesn't want an oil drilling platform in front of Mar-A-Lago," he said of the president's Palm Beach resort.

Buckhorn, a Democrat, was unimpressed by potential for new offshore drilling jobs.

"They're the jobs of the past, not the jobs of the future," he said, calling for more investment in technology, health and defense.

Florida's Democratic U.S. senator, Bill Nelson, excoriated the decision.

"This plan is an assault on Florida's economy, our national security, the will of the public and the environment," Nelson said in a statement. "This proposal defies all common sense, and I will do everything I can to defeat it."

Sen. Marco Rubio, his Republican counterpart, urged officials to continue banning drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico.

That language was echoed by the president of Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization with field offices in Miami and Tallahassee.

The plan "continues the Trump administration's all-out assault on public lands and waters," Trip Van Noppen said in a release, claiming it "puts irreplaceable wildlife and coastal communities at risk for the sole benefit of Big Oil."

Robin Sollie, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce, warned of damage to underwater life.

"We're against offshore drilling, period, as an organization," Sollie said Thursday. "Just the risk involved. No one ever foresaw what happened with Deepwater Horizon, and God forbid anything like that happens again."

But even short of an oil spill, drilling could pose problems for underwater coral reefs and other organisms, or create dangerous rip currents, she said.

"We just need to be very willing to explore alternative energy sources, instead of continuing to rely on the back of placing a rig somewhere."

Contact Langston Taylor at 727-893-8659 and ltaylor@tampabay.com. Follow @langstonitaylor.

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