TAMPA, Fla. — U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan (R) and Kathy Castor (D) have reintroduced bipartisan legislation to permanently ban drilling off Florida's coastlines.
The current moratorium prevents oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, up to 235 miles off Florida's west coast. That measure is scheduled to expire next year. But, federal lawmakers from the Tampa Bay area are worried about what could happen when it does.
"The fatal explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and massive spill into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was one of the worst environmental disasters in history," Rep. Buchanan said in a statement. "We can't risk another spill that would threaten our economy, our environment and our way of life."
The Florida Coastal Protection Act, being reintroduced by Buchanan and Castor, would extend the ban on drilling. A version of the bill was introduced last Congressional session but never got a vote. Last year's legislation would've prevented the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from offering any tracts for oil and gas leasing within 125 miles of Florida's west coast and set boundaries in the Atlantic Ocean too.
“Here in the Sunshine State, our natural resources and beautiful beaches are central to our way of life and the cornerstone of our economy. We have seen the devastating impacts of oil and gas drilling off of our shores, and are coming together, Democrats and Republicans, to once again introduce legislation to make protect our coast – permanently," Rep. Castor added in a statement.
As Buchanan's office pointed out in an email, Southwest Florida has been dealing with red tide in recent years and doesn't need the added threat of an oil spill. In fact, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently detected red tide again in the Tampa Bay region.
“This naturally occurring harmful algal bloom has had a very damaging impact," Buchanan explained. "It would be a huge mistake to allow drilling and be forced to confront another catastrophic spill."
It's not like the area hasn't seen the devastating impacts of an oil spill before. Crest Lake Park in downtown Clearwater reopened to the public Monday after a year of construction. The City of Clearwater says money for the $5.7 million project came from the city's BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement.
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