This week, members of the Florida congressional delegation from both parties signed off on letters to the Trump administration, opposing expanded drilling in the Gulf.
Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Francis Rooney, Dennis Ross, John Rutherford, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho and Democrats U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Al Lawson and Darren Soto signed off on letters to the Pentagon and the Interior Department making the case against oil drilling in the Gulf. At the start of March, U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke announced that 73 million acres in the Gulf would be open to drilling for five years starting in August.
On Monday, Buchanan said oil drilling would hurt Florida’s economy.
“Florida’s coastal communities depend on a clean and healthy ocean and we shouldn’t jeopardize the state’s economy or environment by gambling on operations that lack adequate safeguards,” Buchanan said.
The representatives from Florida wrote Zinke, making their case against drilling in the Gulf.
“As you begin your service as Secretary of the Interior, we are writing to convey our strong opposition to offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico,” they wrote. “Drilling in this area threatens Florida’s multi-billion-dollar, tourism-driven economy and is incompatible with the military training and weapons testing that occurs there. In 2006, Congress passed the Gulf of Mexico Energy and Security Act (P.L. 109-432), which created a moratorium on drilling in most of the eastern Gulf of Mexico – including all areas east of the Military Mission Line.
“It’s been nearly seven years since the Deepwater Horizon explosion fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana claimed the lives of eleven men and ruined an entire tourism season for the Gulf states,” they added. “And we still don’t know the full extent of the damage done to marine life such as dolphins and sea turtles. This tragedy was a painful reminder that Florida’s beaches and economy are at risk even when oil rigs are hundreds of miles away from its shores.
“In addition to its economic value, the eastern Gulf of Mexico provides a critical testing and training range for our nation’s military – the largest such training area in the United States. For example, pilots at Eglin Air Force Base in Pensacola, Florida, use the open space to train with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets,” they continued. “In 2015, the Department of Defense reiterated its opposition to offshore drilling activities in this vital training area. As a former Navy SEAL, you understand the importance of ensuring that the men and women of our armed forces have access to the best training opportunities available.
“We expect that as our nation’s newest Interior Secretary you will follow both the letter and the spirit of the law that currently bans drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and we strongly urge you to heed the recommendations of the Department of Defense and coastal communities by keeping offshore drilling rigs out of the area,” the representatives wrote in conclusion.
The representatives from Florida also wrote U.S. Defense Sec. James Mattis, insisting the Joint Gulf Range Complex, which they presented as “an incomparable national asset,” would be undermined by drilling in the Gulf and maintaining that national defense could be compromised.
“Allowing oil and gas leasing activities in the areas under moratoria will create insurmountable risks to civilian and military personnel, military assets, and drilling infrastructure. We fear that combat training and advanced test and evaluation missions would be unable to continue if the moratorium was lifted,” they wrote “Prior military leaders have described the Joint Gulf Range Complex as a ‘national treasure.’ Consequently, we respectfully seek your support for maintaining the moratorium beyond 2022 and the incomparable national asset we have in the Joint Range Complex.”
Dunn’s office pointed to the military activities conducted in the Joint Gulf Range Complex.
“The Joint Gulf Range Complex is used for high-altitude, supersonic air combat training for frontline fighters like the F-22 and the F-35, live-fire air-to-air and air-to-ground training, air-to-air missile testing, electronic warfare, drone targeting, and naval sub-surface, air-to-surface and surface-to-surface testing, including mine and counter-mine operations,” Dunn’s office noted. “This vast range allows for hypersonic weapons testing and space launch.”