Tourists and oil drills don’t mix


So far, British Petroleum’s $20 billion oil-spill compensation fund has paid a whopping $44.1 million for 2,776 approved claims in the Florida Keys. Miami-Dade County claims total $4.1 million, Broward County’s $2.9 million.

Considering that no oil actually reached Florida while it spewed into the Gulf of Mexico after the April 20 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig, the number of approved Florida damage claims is another example of how oil drilling and tourism, Florida’s No. 1 industry, don’t mix.

So the Interior Department’s announcement of a seven-year moratorium on drilling in federal waters off Florida’s Atlantic coast and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico is welcome news. Just weeks before the BP spill, President Obama proposed a plan to allow drilling 125 miles off Florida’s Gulf coast and on the Atlantic’s Outer Continental Shelf from Delaware to Central Florida.

Mr. Obama’s drilling plan was intended to appeal to Republicans to support climate-change legislation, but it angered many Floridians opposed to drilling, including tourism officials. Now, the climate bill’s passage looks undoable with the GOP’s increased numbers in the House and Senate. That reality, plus fallout from the largest oil spill in U.S. history, apparently convinced the Obama administration to retreat from its pro-drilling stance – good.

The oil and gas industry decried the new ban, saying it will mean fewer jobs and more dependence on foreign oil. What Big Oil didn’t mention is that 43 million acres in the central and western Gulf are still very much open to drilling.

Gov.-elect Rick Scott and other Florida Republicans also criticized the ban, saying it will cost the state jobs. State Senate President Mike Haridopolos says drilling in Florida waters should be considered when it’s “safe.”

But drilling off Florida’s coast would add maybe 5 percent to U.S. oil production – not really a solution to reducing our foreign-oil dependency. And it certainly doesn’t address the 800-pound gorilla in the room – climate change as the Earth’s atmosphere heats up from greenhouse gas emissions. We need new solutions to these problems beyond just more drilling.

State Republicans should read the results of a Florida TaxWatch bipartisan survey of 800 Floridians released in November. Florida TaxWatch, a budget watchdog not notable for its ecological leanings, found that more than 80 percent of those surveyed support elected leaders taking action to increase renewable energy production in the state.

On solar energy, 87 percent favor its development, and 78.6 percent want more use of natural gas, wind and waste-to-energy development. The majority surveyed cited job creation and attracting high-tech industry as the two most important reasons for investing in renewable energy.

They left out two other good reasons: expanding renewable-energy use will reduce our demand for oil and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of complaining about the drilling ban, state leaders should take a tip from the people they represent and direct their efforts toward expanding renewable energy sources.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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