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PolitiFact Florida: Bill Nelson calls out Donald Trump's support for oil drilling

 
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants to keep oil rigs away from Florida.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants to keep oil rigs away from Florida.
Published Nov. 28, 2016

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., spent the week after the election fighting against a bill that would have steered more royalties from oil drilling to some Gulf states.

Florida already bans offshore oil drilling near its coasts. But Nelson feared that by dangling more royalties, state leaders would be more open to drilling near Florida in the future.

President-elect Donald Trump's position, Nelson said, adds a new level of concern.

"Ever since I was a young congressman, I've been fighting to keep oil rigs off of Florida's coast," he said Nov. 16 on the Senate floor, "and now it's especially important at this time as we have a new administration coming in that took a public position in the election declaring the president-elect's intent to open up additional areas off the coast to oil drilling."

The American Energy and Conservation Act of 2016, sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., failed to get enough Senate votes to move forward on Nov. 17. But the future of oil drilling along coasts in Florida and the United States will remain a hot topic of conversation under Trump's administration, so we wanted to check his statements about offshore drilling in the campaign.

Trump generally spoke in favor of offshore oil drilling during the campaign, although his position wasn't always clear.

He was skeptical about a proposal in Congress to allow offshore drilling closer to Florida earlier in the campaign.

"They've already got plenty in the Gulf," Trump said in a February interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "It would be a little bit of a shame (to expand drilling closer to Florida), because there's so much fracking, and there's so much oil that we have now that we never thought possible. That's an issue I'd absolutely study and do the right thing."

In 2006, Congress — with input from Nelson — passed a bill to ban oil drilling within 125 miles off much of Florida's coast and up to 235 miles at some points. The ban expires in 2022.

In 2015, Cassidy introduced the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, which would allow drilling 50 miles off Florida's Gulf shores. In response, Nelson filed a bill to extend the ban by five years. Neither bill reached a Senate vote.

Trump was more forceful about his support for drilling in speeches and news releases following the Times interview.

Trump's America First Energy Plan proposed opening up onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands, eliminating a moratorium on coal leasing and opening shale energy deposits.

Trump called for unleashing "America's $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, plus hundreds of years in clean coal reserves."

In a May speech to the North Dakota Petroleum Council, Trump said that in his first 100 days in office, he would "lift moratoriums on energy production in federal area. We're going to revoke policies that impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies. These technologies create millions of jobs with a smaller footprint than ever before."

He reiterated those views in a September speech at the 2016 Shale Insight Conference.

His position has remained the same since his Nov. 8 victory. His transition team posted an energy policy that stated the administration will open onshore and offshore leasing on federal lands and waters and streamline the permitting process for all energy projects.

A few days after the election, one of his economic advisers, Stephen Moore, told NPR that Trump's administration believes it can raise "hundreds of billions of dollars over the next 10 years" by opening up federal lands for leases for oil and gas development and coal development.

The Obama administration moved in the opposite direction Nov. 18, banning offshore drilling in the Arctic as part of a new five-year plan for energy development in federal waters.

Trump won't be able to instantly toss Obama's ban. His administration will have to prepare a report, which could take as long as two years, and then the federal government would have to organize a sale of leases for companies that want to drill there, the Washington Post reported.

Even though Trump wants more drilling, he may have to wait years for it. CNBC reported that his plan to expand oil drilling probably won't happen until his successor is in the White House. Reasons for delay include the years it takes to start projects, local and state government opposition to drilling and market forces.

So evidence shows Trump has a pro-drilling stance. However, he hasn't been clear about specific plans for Florida. In one interview, he appeared skeptical about expanding offshore drilling closer to Florida. He's limited in the extent that he could expand drilling anywhere near its coasts because current law bans it within at least 125 miles.

With that caveat, we rate Nelson's point Mostly True.

Read more rulings at PolitiFact.com/florida.