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Bill to Allow Drilling in Florida State Waters Comes Under Fire

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) has blasted a bill pending in the Florida House of Representatives that would give Gov. Charlie Crist and the cabinet the authority to consider and accept bids to explore for oil and natural gas in state waters.

"There's no good reason for undoing protections wisely put, and kept, in place by [Florida's former governors]. Those protections spared out state's economy and environment from the ravages of industrializing and degrading our coastline," said Nelson, a long-time foe of drilling off the Sunshine State's coastline.

"Those who now propose to allow oil rigs know full well the plan will do nothing to reduce energy prices or reduce our country's reliance on oil," he said. Nelson helped to negotiate a ban on drilling in federal waters off Florida. While the restrictions on leasing in the federal Outer Continental Shelf expired last year, a 125-mile, no-drill buffer remains in place in federal waters off the western Florida coast until 2022 (see NGI, Dec. 25, 2006).

The House bill (HB 1219), sponsored by state Rep. Dean Cannon, would lift the decades-old ban by allowing Crist and the Florida cabinet to authorize drilling within three to 10 miles off the state's coastline.

The House Policy Council last Tuesday approved the Republican bill on a nearly straight 17-7 party line vote, the Orlando Sentinel reported. It said its next stop is the House floor. A similar bill (SB 2294) has been stalled in the state Senate, where it is not scheduled for any committee hearings.

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