Rooney, Castor, renew efforts to stop Gulf offshore oil exploitation

06-15-20 Letter to Secretary Bernhardt re Florida offshore drilling reports_Page_1 cropped

June 17, 2020 by David Silverberg

Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.) are leading a renewed bipartisan effort to protect Florida Gulf shores from offshore oil exploitation.

In a June 15 letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Rooney, Castor and 16 other members of the Florida congressional delegation urge him “to protect the coasts of Florida from oil and gas development.”

The members recount the history of efforts to protect Florida from oil exploitation and ask four questions of the secretary:

  1. What is the status of the 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program? Does DOI [Department of Interior] have a target date for its release?
  2. Is the Department still working on a new 5-year leasing program that would go into effect prior to the expiration of the current leasing program in 2022? If not, can you indicate whether the Department would consider not releasing a new leasing program that contains any offshore lease sales scheduled prior to the expiration of the 2017-2022 program?
  3. Would the Department consider, when the Proposed Program is eventually issued, not including lease sales for any new areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic?
  4. Would the Department consider supporting our bipartisan legislation, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019, to permanently ban drilling off the coast of Florida?

In response to a June 10 article in Politico that the administration planned to begin oil leasing in Gulf waters if President Donald Trump is re-elected in November, the Department of Interior’s press secretary tweeted the same day that the article was “#FakeNews based entirely on anonymous sources who don’t know what they’re talking about. Current offshore plans do not expire until 2022, and @Interior does not plan to issue a new report in November.”

However, identical concerns were expressed by the House Natural Resources Committee in 2019. (For a full report on the Gulf offshore oil issue, see the June 6 article: Trump, Biden and the Gulf shore oil war.)

The full text of the Rooney-Castor letter follows:

June 15, 2020

The Honorable David Bernhardt Secretary

U.S.     Department of the Interior 1849 C Street, NW Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary Bernhardt:

We write to urge you to protect the coasts of Florida from oil and gas development. As you know, in 2019, the House of Representatives passed the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act to permanently ban drilling off the coast of Florida with broad bipartisan support. Despite that vote and the economic and environmental damage left by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, it appears that the Department of the Interior (DOI) is preparing to open the door to oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts shortly after the November 2020 election. As representatives from Florida, we are asking for clarification on DOI’s plans for drilling off the coasts of our state.

Florida relies on coastlines unencumbered by oil and gas drilling to sustain its economy, preserve its marine life and natural resources, and protect our national security. This past April marked ten years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, when we saw firsthand the destruction offshore drilling can have on our state. Our state and local economies cannot sustain another disaster like that – especially on top of the current economic struggles tied to the COVID-19 crisis.

Furthermore, the eastern Gulf of Mexico is a critical testing and training area for our military, and the Department of Defense has stated clearly that the Gulf Test Range is an “irreplaceable national asset” for combat force readiness. Any oil and gas development would be an obstacle to military preparedness and national security.

Additionally, the people of Florida are also clearly opposed to oil and gas development off our coast. A constitutional amendment on Florida’s November 2018 ballot to ban offshore drilling in state waters passed overwhelmingly. Here is objective proof that Floridians recognize that the state’s economy depends on a pristine environment, and that offshore drilling threatens Florida’s future.

In response to the June 10 Politico story, DOI’s Press Secretary tweeted, “Current offshore plans do not expire until 2022, and @Interior does not plan to issue a new report in November.” In light of our strong interest to preserve and protect Florida’s coasts, we request that you provide clarification through written answers to the following questions:

    1. What is the status of the 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Proposed Program? Does DOI have a target date for its release?
    1. Is the Department still working on a new 5-year leasing program that would go into effect prior to the expiration of the current leasing program in 2022? If not, can you indicate whether the Department would consider not releasing a new leasing program that contains any offshore lease sales scheduled prior to the expiration of the 2017-2022 program?
    1. Would the Department consider, when the Proposed Program is eventually issued, not including lease sales for any new areas in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic?
    1. Would the Department consider supporting our bipartisan legislation, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019, to permanently ban drilling off the coast of Florida?

Sincerely,

Kathy Castor,  Francis Rooney

Darren Soto,  Matt Gaetz, Gus M. Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel,  Alcee L. Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Bill Posey, John H. Rutherford, Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2020 by David Silverberg

 

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