Florida Could Amend State Constitution to Limit Exploration

Florida state legislators introduced a bill this week that would allow voters to amend the state constitution to ban oil drilling within 250 miles of the Gulf Coast. The legislation would be a "largely symbolic gesture" since federal law would likely override any such restrictions.

State Sen. Mike Bennett (R) and state Rep. Mary Brandenburg (D)'s bill would serve as a statement against a bill introduced last week in Congress that would allow new oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico within 45 miles of Florida's coast.

Congress last year approved -- and President Bush signed -- legislation allowing new eastern Gulf drilling that provided a buffer of 125 miles or more in most places for Florida (E&E Daily, March 14).

"Sometimes you have to send a message to Washington that the people of Florida really don't want this," Bennett said, adding that the measure could pressure state and federal officials to increase research and development of alternative fuels. "When we start punching holes in the Gulf, it just gives us another excuse to delay," he said. "What we should be doing is saying we cannot drill our way out of this problem. We need to keep people's feet to the fire" (Michael Peltier, Naples Daily News).

The state House Energy Committee was unreceptive yesterday, saying the ban would be symbolic even if Floridians voted for it. The amendment would require 60 percent voter approval. "Our constitution has been messed with so much," said state Rep. Paige Kreegel (R). "To use it to make a statement makes a mockery of it" (Sara Lubbes, Gainesville Sun).

Other opponents include Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Petroleum Council and phosphate mining giant CF Industries (Jim Ash, Ft. Myers News-Press). (All cites March 22 unless noted.) -- DK

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