Offshore drilling ban proposed by bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers

The ban would bar oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts and request the Coast Guard to identify areas that risk oil spills

Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., are seen during a House Oversight and Reform Committee business meeting in Rayburn Building on January 29, 2019. Wasserman Schultz and a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers are pushing to ban drilling off their coast. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers introduced a measure to permanently ban drilling off their coast, the latest sign resistance may be swift among coastal Republicans if the administration tries to open their states’ waters to oil and gas exploration.

The legislation introduced Monday by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., would bar oil and gas drilling off Florida’s coasts and call on the Coast Guard to determine what areas face heightened risk from oil spills. It was introduced with support from Republican Reps. Vern Buchanan and Matt Gaetz, a close ally of President Donald Trump.

[Offshore drilling may be oily albatross for Trump’s pick to head Interior]

The Interior Department last year proposed opening almost all Atlantic coastal waters to potential oil and gas drilling, including the entirety of Florida’s coastline. It was the first of three iterations required by federal law for the department to finalize a new five-year offshore leasing plan.

The idea was met with swift opposition. Republican Sen. Rick Scott, then the state’s governor, pressured the department to exempt Florida from drilling and then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke promised he would do so.

Following Zinke’s resignation in December, Florida’s congressional delegation showed signs it believed offshore drilling in Florida may be back on the table. The entire delegation wrote to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asking for a verbal commitment he would follow through with what Zinke promised.

[Expect offshore drilling to play role in next week’s Interior secretary confirmation]

During his confirmation hearing last month, Bernhardt said the department’s planning process would involve “extensive input from the states and I can assure you that we listen to the states.”

“I don’t know what the timing is,” he said of the next iteration of the proposal. “I don’t think it’s going to happen immediately.”

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