Florida's congressional delegation, citing the state's vibrant tourism industry, delivered a unanimous, bipartisan and stern message of opposition to offshore energy exploration during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats took turns blasting the idea of putting fossil-fuel development near the state's 825 miles of pristine beaches in order to boost energy production and oil company profits.
"Why should Florida suffer so they can make more money?" said Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Naples.
Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fort Lauderdale, and the Democratic co-chairman of the Florida's 29-member delegation, vowed to be the "last man standing against offshore drilling."
While Ken Lawson, president and chief executive of Visit Florida, the state's official tourism marketing arm, told lawmakers that the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion "will always serve as a stark reminder of what happens when we do not make our beaches, our waters and our environment our top priority."
BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded roughly 50 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, triggering an 87-day spill that released an estimated four million barrels of oil and gas. Along with 11 who died, 17 others suffered serious injuries and 115 people were evacuated from the rig, which sank.
The hearing comes as the Trump administration nears a decision on whether to allow seismic testing for fossil fuel deposits along the Atlantic Coast.
In January, the Trump administration dropped Florida from its plan to allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in most U.S. coastal waters.
The decision, in response to appeals from Florida Gov. Rick Scott, prompted calls for similar carve-outs from lawmakers in other coastal states like New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and North Carolina. But similar exemptions have not been provided.
Expanding offshore U.S. oil exploration is necessary to maintain America's ranking as the world's leading producer of oil and natural gas, said Ken Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the American Petroleum Institute. Milito testified that even though the U.S. is a net exporter of oil, the country still consumes 18 to 20 million barrels per day.
"Moving forward, we've really got to look at where the opportunities might be for our industry to continue to provide" for the nation's increasing demand for oil and natural gas, Milito said.
The Trump administration has been sympathetic to those concerns, advocating for expanded exploration off the California coast, in the Arctic and in the Atlantic Ocean.
But environmentalists, business leaders and lawmakers along the Eastern Seaboard have rallied in opposition.
They fear that, if approved, seismic testing could lead to actual offshore drilling in the 330,000-square mile area of Atlantic Ocean from Florida to Delaware bay where the seismic testing has been proposed.
Representatives Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, have introduced the Marine Oil Spill Prevention Act that would extend a moratorium on drilling off much of Florida's Gulf coast from 2022 to 2027.
The bill would also make oil companies pay a greater share of oil-spill cleanup efforts and create a Gulf Coast Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council, that would work to avoid oil spills by tracking energy-industry activity and recommending safety practices.
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