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  1. Opinion

Florida must take the lead in protecting itself and its future energy security | Column

The right kind of deal will strengthen our economy and more importantly, ensure reliable and affordable energy supplies for everyone, writes the president of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Many of Florida’s Hispanic population came to America to escape communist and socialist regimes like those in Cuba and Venezuela, so we are justifiably wary of the kind of geopolitical maneuvering we’re seeing right now with our national energy security.

If we aren’t careful about protecting and defending it, we are going to cede it to nations that don’t have our interests at heart – like Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Russia and OPEC’s recent interventions in the global energy market, against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, are putting at risk our energy independence, threatened as they are by our emergence as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas.

Julio Fuentes is president, Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. [ ED RODRIGUEZ | Tampa Tribune ]

While our leaders are appropriately focused on COVID-19, as they should be, we cannot lose sight of our longer-term goals as a nation. And we cannot let out guard down against those countries acting against our national interests, trying to reverse the American energy revolution that made us the world’s top producer.

Florida is especially vulnerable to the market distortions caused by geopolitical tussles, since our state imports nearly all of its energy sources. But it doesn’t have to be that way, if we make some smart moves in the near future.

Coronavirus or not, we cannot take our eye off one particular ball – the expiration of the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling contained in the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA).

Without action before 2022, drilling could happen nine miles off the Gulf Coast and three miles off the rest of Florida’s coastline. No one wants that.

However, we have a tremendous opportunity to fashion a Florida-driven compromise with our fellow Gulf states that protects our special shores, our $90 billion-a-year tourism industry and the critical military operations while also ensuring we are contributing to American energy security. After all, American energy security means lower prices for all Floridians and crucially, our businesses -- one in four of which is Hispanic-owned.

A knee-jerk extension of the current moratorium is not the answer.

The contours of a long-term compromise must include encouraging the ongoing cooperation between the Departments of Defense and Interior that have kept military operations, fishing, and oil and gas exploration happening in harmony in the rest of the Gulf. And we must also advocate to ensure that any exploration happen far from land, to preserve our amazing views and protect our precious coastline. And a deal must be long-term, so we do not have to go back to Congress every five or 10 years.

Done right, the compromise can also generate tens of millions of dollars for coastal conservation and hurricane protection. Our neighboring Gulf States this year split nearly $353 million in revenue sharing under GOMESA, all of which will go to those noble goals.

That’s not the only benefit Floridians can gain from the right kind of deal. The right kind of deal will strengthen our economy and more importantly, ensure reliable and affordable energy supplies for everyone. Our families and the nearly 3 million Floridians living in poverty, who pay a fifth of their income in energy bills every month, need it. So do our businesses.

When the coronavirus crisis ends, we need to be able to spur economic recovery and entice tourists back to our many attractions. Low energy prices will be a huge advantage, and putting Florida in the driver’s seat when it comes to deciding how it will contribute to American energy security is a fast route to get there.

Let’s all work together for a compromise that benefits everyone, boosts energy security, protects our coastline and strengthens our state and national economies. Florida is special and we can keep it that way with a smart compromise. Our future depends on it.

Julio Fuentes is president and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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