Janesville63.3°

Ruining coast won’t ease gas thirst

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Myriam Marquez
August 18, 2008
— Staring out at the Gulf Coast’s clear emerald waters, toes deep into the sugar-white sand, you can’t help but wonder how much longer this heavenly slice of Florida will remain unspoiled.

The Panhandle’s so-called Redneck Riviera has its luxury hotels and golf courses and Disney-like tidy downtowns at the Sandestin resort, but the Gulf of Mexico remains the big draw. No condo canyons here. The beach, while packed in spots with vacationers from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas, opens to huge swaths of protected Florida dunes and no-build beaches.


What would it be like with oil and gas drills just 50 miles off the coast? What would happen in a hurricane? Would the alabaster sand turn black with gook spilled from platforms or tankers? Would the putrid smell of oil and gas overwhelm the senses?


Because once again Florida’s pristine Gulf Coast and the state’s $65 billion tourism industry are in jeopardy.


Our lame-duck president says it’s time to go back to the 20th century. The former oil man proposes letting states decide if they want drilling on their coasts—just as polls show 60 percent of Floridians hit with $4 a gallon gas at the pump might be desperate enough to allow it.


There’s talk, too, in the U.S. Senate of opening up drilling within 50 miles off the Gulf Coast—and Florida wouldn’t have a say.


Gov. Charlie “The People are Hurting” Crist—who flip-flopped recently to embrace Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s plan for coastal drilling—expressed reservations about rigs 50 miles away. This scenario caused Charlie “a little angst.”


Such pathetic platitudes constitute leadership?


Two years ago, Sens. Mel Martinez, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, won a compromise to protect Florida’s coast from congressional meddling. At the time, they stopped a push to allow drilling 50 miles off the coast. The compromise law extends the no-drill buffer 125 miles from the Pensacola/Destin area, 235 miles off of Tampa Bay and 325 miles off Naples. Now the 50-mile buffer is back on the table. Why?


Oil companies already have federal leases on 39 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. They’re drilling in only 7 million. And as part of that compromise law, 8 million new acres were opened to drilling, too. Gas prices soared.


There are no short-term fixes to our dependency on foreign oil. We need an energy policy that protects our environment and our pocketbooks while freeing us of our oil addiction. And that will take years to accomplish.


Barack Obama, the poll-watching Democratic presidential wannabe, offered his own flip-flop after checking the air in his tires. He now says the 50-mile limit might be a compromise worth exploring. At least Obama’s proposing $150 billion on energy alternatives. He wants vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, too—a smart move President Bush and McCain have refused to embrace.


Maybe Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens will help McCain rethink his gas simplicity plan. Pickens is pushing wind, natural gas and other alternative sources.


He points out that oil reached its production peak in 2005. Americans are 4 percent of the world’s population but use 25 percent of the oil supply. Do the math.


Slipping into the warm Gulf waters on a spectacular August day, not a glob of tar to worry about—yet I couldn’t help but find Florida on the losing end of that equation.



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