U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) sent a letter yesterday to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke demanding specific details on any new five-year offshore drilling plan the agency may be considering.
The move comes less than 24 hours after Zinke announced in an airport in Tallahassee that he was taking Florida “off the table” as the agency looks to open up additional areas to offshore oil drilling.
Nelson, who immediately called the announcement a “political stunt,” says the public has a right to know exactly what Interior is now proposing before they should be expected to comment on it.
“The public has a right to know exactly what Interior’s plan is,” Nelson wrote to Zinke, “and it is unreasonable to expect Floridians to provide input on a plan that may or may not be the plan that your agency is actually considering.”
Nelson announced the letter in a speech he gave on the Senate floor Wednesday. “While many in Florida have seen right through this shameless political stunt,” Nelson said, “it has opened up a long list of other questions that I have now asked Secretary Zinke to answer in a letter that I have sent today.”
Nelson went on to say that Zinke should extend the public comment period to give Floridians adequate time to voice their opinion on any new plan.
“For every day that goes by without answers to these essential questions, the secretary needs to add that much more time to the public comment period,” Nelson said. “I fear this announcement of Secretary Zinke’s is going to discourage Floridians from commenting on the proposal that was published just this Monday – the one that opened up Florida’s entire coastline to drilling – because our Floridians have been given false assurances that we all are in the clear.”
In that same speech, Nelson also announced that he filed new legislation Wednesday to permanently ban drilling off of Florida’s coast.
“I have filed bills to expand the moratorium on the Gulf Coast, I have sponsored other legislation to protect Florida, and today I am filing another bill that would be a permanent ban of drilling off of Florida’s coast,” Nelson announced.
Following is the text of Nelson’s letter to Zinke, followed by a transcript of his speech:
January 10, 2018
The Honorable Ryan Zinke
United States Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Zinke:
It is my understanding that just one day after publishing a new five-year drilling plan in the Federal Register, you have now announced that you are altering that plan to take Florida “off the table.”
If that’s correct, it would seem that the public is now being asked to comment on a plan that is vastly different than the plan Interior is actually considering. The public has a right to know exactly what Interior’s plan is, and it is unreasonable to expect Floridians to provide input on a plan that may or may not be the plan that your agency is actually considering.
Therefore, I ask that you immediately provide answers to the following questions:
· Is the plan published in the Federal Register Monday the current plan being considered by the Interior Department?
· If not, please provide specific details on your agency’s revised plan that takes Florida “off the table.”
· If there is a new revised plan that takes Florida “off the table”, does it:
o Maintain the current moratorium in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico beyond 2022?
o Prohibit drilling in the Straits of Florida and off Florida’s Atlantic Coast?
o Prohibit seismic testing in the areas mentioned above?
· Will your agency be issuing a revised map noting which areas are now excluded from consideration for drilling?
· Does this announcement indicate your agency is now also rejecting seismic permit applications in these areas?
· In regards to your statement that you are “removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms,” does this mean your agency is planning to allow drilling off Florida’s coast as long as the platforms themselves are located just west of the Military Mission Line?
· Will you recommend to President Trump that these coastal areas are withdrawn from the offshore oil and gas leasing program?
Please provide complete answers to these important questions by the end of the week. In the meantime, I strongly urge you to extend the public comment period for the draft five-year plan so that Floridians know exactly what’s being proposed and have a fair opportunity to convey their position.
I have fought to keep drilling away from Florida’s coasts for decades now. This is a very serious issue for the people of Florida, and I hope that you will treat it as such by providing answers to the above questions immediately.
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
January 10, 2018
Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I say I’ve seen political games being played with trying to drill off of the coast of Florida. Not only am I appalled, I have recoiled at this political game, but unfortunately I’m not surprised because what we’ve seen happen in the last 15 hours, it all started late last week when the Department of Interior released a new of five-year drilling plan and it virtually had all of the coastal waters, the outer continental shelf of the entire United States included in this plan, including that area of Florida that is off limits to drilling, in law, a law Republican Senator Mel Martinez and I passed back in 2006 that keeps drilling off of the Gulf Coast of Florida until the year 2022.
This new proposal would open up nearly all of the federal waters to drilling, including all of the coastal waters of Florida both west coast, Gulf Coast, and east coast the Atlantic. But also the Straits of Florida. Those waters that come around the Florida Keys, which is the Gulf Stream, that comes then right up the southeast coast of Florida. The Gulf Stream then going out across the Atlantic, past Bermuda, ends up in northern Europe.
Well, our colleagues have heard this senator many times come and talk about how keeping oil rigs away from Florida’s coast is an issue that is important to our state because of our tourism economy, but also because of the military missions on both the west coast, the Gulf, as well as the Atlantic.
And as a Floridian, this senator has been fighting this fight ever since the mid-1980’s when a Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, intended to drill off the east coast of Florida where we were launching our space shuttle, dropping the solid rocket boosters and where we were launching our military rockets taking our clandestine satellites in orbit, dropping the first stages. That’s how I beat it back in the 1980’s.
But lo and behold, here we are again, and the same place. We know you can’t allow drilling in the Straits of Florida right off the Florida Keys because an oil spill there would be in the Gulf Stream, and that Gulf Stream hugs the coast of southeast Florida. Can you imagine what it would do to the beaches of the Florida Keys, the beach of Miami Beach, and all up the gold coast of Florida all the way to palm beach, all the way north to Fort Pierce, where then the Gulf Stream heads farther in a northeasterly direction out into the Atlantic?
Well, let me show you what’s happening over in the Gulf Coast. Mr. President, all of this in yellow is what is off limits in the Gulf of Mexico in law as a result of the 2006 law. There’s an obvious reason for all of this, because this line is known as the Military Mission Line. Everything east of here is the largest testing and training area for the United States Military in the world. That’s why we put this off limits to oil activity. And, oh, by the way, the testing and training mission for the entire Department of Defense is located right here at Eglin Air Force Base which, by the way, is why they brought all the pilot training for many nations for the f-35 new super stealthy jet fighter.
And guess what’s going on down here in Panama City at Tyndall Air Force Base? That’s where we have all the pilot training for our f-22, another one of our stealthy fighters. But down here in Key West, we have the Key West naval air station. So they bring in the squadrons of F-18’s for the navy at Boca Chica, which is where the air base is. And within two minutes of lifting off the runway, within two minutes they’re over restricted airspace for doing their testing and training. And, oh, by the way, what about the rest of the Navy? They bring their ships in here, amphibious ships going on to the beaches up there by Eglin Air Force Base, and all of the activity is not just on the surface. The testing and training mission is also subsurface because that’s part of the Navy’s mission as well.
And so there’s ample opportunity to test because from here to here is 300 miles. From here to here is about 300 miles. So that there’s plenty of room to do this test. The largest testing and training area in the world.
But painfully over time, we have found another reason, and that was over here off of Louisiana, back a little over a decade ago there was an oil spill. It wasn’t any little oil spill. It was the Deepwater Horizon, the BP well that spewed at the surface — at the bottom — of the ocean which was a mile down below the surface. It spewed out five million barrels of oil before they ever got it stopped. And that was a, a rig that did not work. It was supposed to be what’s called the blowout preventer that was to go in and clamp off the well when there was a blowout. It was defective. It didn’t close off that well at the well head 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. And as a result, five million barrels of oil spilled.
And so what happened to Florida’s economy? Not even to speak of, all the fishing over in Louisiana and Alabama and Mississippi. I’ll tell you what happened to Florida’s economy. Oil came as far east as Pensacola Beach. The photographs of oil completely covering the sugary white sands of Pensacola Beach, those photographs went around the world. So what did people do?
For an entire tourist season, they didn’t come to any of the beaches of the gulf coast because they thought there was oil on the beach. Painfully, because of that experience, not even to speak of what has been done to our environment and how much oil is still sloshing around down there on the bottom of the Gulf, painfully that experience got in the minds of the businesses all up and down the Gulf Coast of Florida. And, by the way, over on the east coast, because had that oil ever gotten in a current called the loop current that comes down and becomes the gulf stream, that oil would have ruined the tourism industry all along Florida’s southeast coast, what I mentioned from the keys to Miami Beach and all the way up to fort pierce, Florida.
So Floridians feel fairly strongly about this, Madam President, and that’s why we were fortunate over a decade ago in a bipartisan way to pass a law to keep all of that area that I just showed you off limits in law. We knew what would happen to our tourism, that people subsequently found out with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and we knew what would happen to threaten our national security by hampering our ability to do our training and testing. And so voila, all of a sudden the Trump administration announces last week that it’s going to drill off of all of Florida.
Madam President, I have sponsored legislation in the past. I have filed bills to expand the moratorium on the Gulf Coast. I’ve sponsored other legislation to protect Florida. And today I am filing another bill that would be a permanent ban of drilling off of Florida’s coast for exactly the reasons that I have just said.
And when last week the secretary of the Interior, Secretary Zinke, announced that they were opening up nearly all federal waters, including all of those around Florida, we of course went in to fighting mode again — and we will fight this and it will be defeated.
But now it turns out, Madam President, that that was just a political stunt because late yesterday, one day after officially publishing the plan in the federal register, Secretary Zinke flew to Florida, met with the governor of Florida for 20 minutes at the Tallahassee airport, and suddenly announced that he had now decided to, quote, “take Florida off the table.” End of quote.
It sounds like a political stunt.
While many in Florida have seen right through this shameless political stunt, it has opened up a long list of other questions that I have now asked Secretary Zinke to answer in a letter that I have sent today.
Well, what exactly does off the table mean? The whole Eastern Gulf, half of it? 125 miles off the coast? Does it mean both coasts of Florida? Does it mean just one? What about the Straits of Florida? Okay, Secretary Zinke, what about the seismic surveys? You all have said you’re proceeding with that. Are those off the table too? If you’re going to take, quote, off the table Florida waters in this little political stunt that was done one day after the federal register having published the proposed rule, does that mean you’re going to eliminate the seismic surveys? There’s no reason to expose marine life and endangered species to the harmful impacts of seismic surveys if there aren’t any actual plans to drill in the area.
So, Mr. President, are you taking that off the table? What about your statement that it also included another caveat, Mr. Secretary? You said, quote, you were, quote, removing Florida from consideration for any new oil and gas platforms. End of quote. Well, all of us know that platforms are different from wellheads. So tell me, does that, Mr. Secretary, that there might still be drilling off the coast of Florida but the platforms themselves might be located just to the west of the Military Mission Line but the wellhead is going to be down underneath and far from that prohibited line?
And, Mr. Secretary, does your change of heart mean the administration now supports the bipartisan efforts of the Florida delegation to extend the moratorium on drilling in the eastern gulf? And that is the bill that I have just filed today, and it has been filed by Congressman Castor in the House of Representatives.
For every day that goes by without answers to these essential questions, the secretary needs to add that much more time to the public comment period. Right now the secretary’s promise last night at the Tallahassee airport, one day after publishing in the federal register that Florida is off limits, right now his promise is just empty words because the only real thing out there that is existing is the law that prevents drilling off of the coast of the gulf of Florida for the next five years.
So the secretary has proposed a five-year plan to drill the rest of Florida and to start drilling in 2023 off the Gulf Coast of Florida.
So there’s also a law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act which spells out a very specific process for developing lease sales in federal waters.
And with all this rush and now saying that, quote, Florida is off the table, I fear this announcement of Secretary Zinke’s is going to discourage Floridians from commenting on the proposal that was published just this Monday, the one that opened up Florida’s entire coastline to drilling because they’d been given false — our Floridians have been given false assurances that we all are in the clear.
And that brings us back to it’s such a political stunt — design a plan for the entire U.S., publish it on Monday, and take it back on Tuesday for Florida for political reasons. So Floridians should beware and they should make their objections known, because if we don’t then the administration will try to say that they never heard objections from Floridians.
And it goes on and on, more political games.
Floridians aren’t the only ones who need to know what this means. What about all the other states that have been affected? Did you hear that there is an uproar among the governors of other states, coastal states that are in this drilling plan of the administration? they said why one day later would you go to Florida and say, we’re eliminating it but, Mr. Secretary Zinke, you didn’t exempt my state all the way from Maine in the north, all the way to Florida on the Atlantic coast, all the other Gulf states, and then go to the west coast of the united states, California all the way up to the state of Washington. So it’s more games. So people in Maryland, people in Massachusetts, people in the Carolinas are really upset.
Why don’t you eliminate the drilling that you’re proposing off my state? What about outing California and Oregon and the state of Washington?
The administration and Secretary Zinke shouldn’t be playing politics with an issue that is so important to all of our futures, but especially so to Florida’s future.
Madam President, I yield the floor.