State politicians oppose Gulf drilling


Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 10:45 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Both of Florida's U.S. senators and fourteen of the state's 25 House members sent a letter Tuesday to Interior Secretary Gale Norton objecting to a federal proposal they say could move offshore drilling closer to the state's beaches.
The Floridians complained about her department's plan for administrative boundary changes that would give pro-drilling Alabama and Louisiana authority over portions of the Gulf of Mexico south of the Panhandle historically under Florida's control.
"While the long term effects of this change remain unclear, we are concerned that this is yet another attempt to undermine Florida's ability to control activities off of its own coast, including offshore oil and gas drilling," the Florida lawmakers wrote.
They are worried the change would open portions of Lease Sale 181 where drilling now is prohibited. Part of the area known as the "stovepipe" comes within 16 miles of Pensacola's beaches.
Most Florida politicians have opposed offshore drilling because they fear it could pollute beaches vital to the state's tourism business and interfere with military training and weapons testing in and over the gulf.
Sens. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Mel Martinez, a Republican, and the representatives - eight Republicans and six Democrats - also noted the proposal was published in the Federal Register without any notice or opportunity for public comment.
"Anytime such changes are being considered, decision makers should be made aware of the full impact of such a proposal, including how it will affect our environment, economy and national security," they wrote, adding that they hoped in the future the department "will consult with us and give the people most affected by its decisions an opportunity to comment."
A spokesman for Norton referred questions to the department's Minerals Management Service, which did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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