The move is designed both to help the state’s tourism industry by limiting the possibility of environmental disaster like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and to maintain the viability of a miltary test range in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Amid reporting that the administration of President Donald Trump is considering a move to open the waters off Florida’s coasts to oil and gas exploration if Trump is elected to a second term in November, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., pledged earlier this week to protect the state’s coastline from offshore drilling.
The move is designed both to help the state’s tourism industry by limiting the possibility of environmental disaster like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and to maintain the viability of a military test range in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Unfortunately for Scott, his pledge came Wednesday, the day before the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which Scott serves, rejected his proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021(NDAA) — a sweeping bill addressing military expenditures and policy — to extend an existing moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico by 25 years.
The moratorium currently is slated to expire on June 30, 2022.
The committee did, however, include a Scott-proposed amendment to the Senate version of the NDAA requiring the Department of Defense to report on the importance of the Gulf Test and Training Range, a 120,000-square-mile section of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The range supports a wide array of military testing and training missions among the nation’s military services. It is overseen by Eglin Air Force Base’s 96th Test Wing.
"I’m disappointed my colleagues decided not to include my amendment to extend the moratorium on offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf, but I’m glad my amendment to highlight the importance of the Gulf Test Range was included," Scott said in a Thursday statement.
Also in the statement, Scott vowed to continue work to limit oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. "This fight isn’t over," Scott said, "and I will keep working to protect Florida’s natural resources for generations to come."
On Wednesday, a news release from Scott’s office previewed his intent, noting that "(d)uring debate on the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Great American Outdoors Act, Senator Rick Scott will fight to include provisions to protect Florida’s coasts from offshore drilling."
Scott and Florida’s other U.S. senator, Republican Marco Rubio, have made previous attempts to extend the moratorium, including a bill introduced in January of last year that would move its expiration date to June 30, 2027.
The bill was assigned to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, but has seen no further action.
In comments earlier this week to The Hill, a political news website, a Rubio spokesman said the senator "and the entire Florida delegation is committed to extending the moratorium on offshore drilling off the coast of Florida."
Senate inactivity thus far regarding oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico stands in marked contrast to action in the House of Representatives.
Last year, the House passed a bill that would establish a permanent moratorium on oil and gas exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Among the co-sponsors of the bill was Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., whose Northwest Florida district includes Eglin Air Force Base.
"Florida’s precious coastline is a national treasure and a vital military asset," Gaetz said in a statement issued after the vote on last year’s House bill, which passed 248-180. " It is incomprehensible that a drilling moratorium would not be imposed in an area where experimental missiles are tested and launched."
That bill has, however, not moved at all in the Senate beyond its assignment to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Legislative action — or inaction — on the moratorium on oil and gas exploration is playing out against a backdrop of the Trump administration’s reported interest in opening up the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas exploration.
According to a Wednesday report from Politico, a political news organization, "the Trump administration is preparing to open the door to oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coast — but will wait until after the November election to avoid blowback in a swing state whose waters both parties have long considered sacrosanct, according to four people familiar with the plan."
The office of Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt has taken issue with the Politico story. In a Thursday email, Berhnardt’s press secretary, Ben Goldey, wrote, "We refute this story and its anonymous sources. There has been no change regarding this issue since the Secretary's interview with the Wall Street Journal in April of 2019 nor is the Department planning to issue the report right after the election."
In the Wall Street Journal story, Bernhardt said the Trump administration’s proposal to vastly expand offshore oil and gas drilling had been sidelined indefinitely.
A report submitted to a House committee by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, in advance of last year’s House vote on a permanent moratorium, notes that a 2018 report from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management proposed opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas exploration when the current moratorium expires.
In arguing for passage of the permanent moratorium eventually passed by the House, Grijalva’s report suggests the Trump administration intends "to wait until after the 2020 presidential election, in which Florida may be a key swing state, before revealing an unpopular plan to lease off of Florida's shore."
The bottom of the Gulf is littered with munitions from testing over the years.