Freshman Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL) said he voted to open up Alaska's Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy exploration and production earlier this month after receiving assurances from the Bush administration that the current moratorium on oil and natural gas drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast would be extended for five years to 2012.
"Before I made my decision on ...ANWR, I wanted to be confident that my vote would strengthen -- not weaken -- Florida's moratorium on offshore drilling. I know that a 'slippery slope' is of great concern to all Floridians," he said in a prepared statement. "Through my negotiations with the administration, I have been able to better secure the position of Florida's pristine beaches for years to come."
The Senate in mid-March narrowly voted (51-49) to open up a small portion of the 2,000-acre coastal plain of ANWR to drilling (see NGI, March 21). Absent the Florida senator's supporting vote, anti-drilling forces in the Senate could have been victorious in their effort to keep ANWR closed to producers.
"I have...spoken to Sen. [Pete] Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, and he has assured me that he is very supportive of the right of states to oppose drilling off their coasts. He understands that Floridians, the Florida delegation and the Florida governor are opposed to offshore drilling. He agrees the U.S. is much better off developing oil and gas production where it has strong support -- in Alaska for example -- where the majority of Alaskans, the governor and the entire congressional delegation support drilling in... ANWR," Martinez said.
He noted that he plans to introduce legislation in the Senate to make the moratorium off Florida's Gulf Coast permanent, and to buy back an open oil and natural gas leases.
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