A Florida Senate committee Thursday unanimously approved a measure that seeks voter approval in 2008 of a constitutional amendment to prohibit oil and natural gas drilling within 250 miles of Florida’s coastline.

“It was just a very first step and it’s not going any further, I don’t think,” said David Mica, director of the Florida Petroleum Council. “I think that legislators actually realize that they have constitutional issues themselves with the bill. It goes way beyond Florida powers” and reaches into the Outer Continental Shelf, where the federal government has sole jurisdiction.

Florida’s proposed amendment is partly in response to a congressional bill recently introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Larry Craig (R-ID), which would permit domestic producers to explore for oil and natural gas in U.S. and Cuban waters located as close as 45 miles from the Sunshine State, Mica said (see Daily GPI, March 14).

A bill passed by Congress last year and signed into law by President Bush established a 125-mile, no-drill buffer zone for Florida (see Daily GPI, Dec. 21, 2006). The proposed amendment to the state’s constitution would seek to double that boundary.

The measure, which cleared the Senate Environmental, Preservation and Conservation Committee by a 5-0 vote, is “exactly the wrong direction that we need to be going as a state,” especially as Florida is becoming more energy intensive, he noted. “It’s pandering, it’s political and it’s unfortunate. We should be doing just the opposite.”

A similar bill has been offered in the state House by Democratic Rep. Mary Brandenburg. A Republican House lawmaker has said he will rewrite the bill as a resolution to Congress, signaling the Florida House’s concern with drilling activity closer than the 125 miles that was agreed upon last year by Congress, Mica said.

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