Florida lawmakers attack offshore boundaries bid

Sixteen Florida lawmakers have criticized state administrative boundaries drawn by the Interior Department in federal coastal waters.

Offshore staff

(Florida)- Sixteen Florida lawmakers have criticized state administrative boundaries drawn by the Interior Department in federal coastal waters. Both Florida senators and 14 House members say that the boundaries will "undermine Florida's ability to control" offshore oil and gas drilling.

The lawmakers wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Gal Norton in response to the Minerals Management Service's Jan. 3 issuance of seaward boundaries in the federal outer continental shelf. The lines put much of the Lease Sale 181 area in the eastern GoM outside of Florida's seaward boundaries.

MMS responded to this complaint by saying that the lines will help the organization manage alternative and traditional energy infrastructure development. The area is under a great deal of scrutiny now, because although the Bush administration has largely withheld the area from oil and gas leasing, it is now under pressure to open the area up in the upcoming five-year leasing plan.

Florida legislators are concerned because the new MMS map gives Alabama and Louisiana greater say over energy activities in the Lease Sale 181 area. In their letter, they state: "while the long term effects of the change remain unclear, we are concerned that this is yet another attempt to undermine Florida's ability to control activities off its own coast, including offshore oil and gas drilling."

The letter has been signed by the following Florida legislators: Sens. Mel Martinez (R) and Bill Nelson (D), Reps. Jim Davis (D), Mark Foley (R), Clay Shaw (R), Alcee Hastings (D), Connie Mack (R), Ginny Brown-Waite (R), Katherine Harris (R), Robert Wexler (D), Jeff Miller (R), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D), Allen Boyd (D), Michael Bilirakis (R), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) and Corrine Brown (D).

While Florida legislators are fighting offshore drilling, several other legislators are pushing for "opt-out" options, which would effectively allow states to opt-out of offshore drilling bans. Most notably, Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA) and Senator and Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chair Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) have each planned legislation allowing states to open up offshore drilling based on the opt-out idea.

Pombo has negotiated with some Florida lawmakers about a long-term drilling buffer for their state that would be part of his opt-out plan. Other lawmakers, like Florida's Senator Nelson, oppose any plan that would bring drilling closer to Florida's shores than current policies and restrictions allow.

State offshore boundaries and proposed drilling activities will be a key issue for lawmakers and energy companies alike as 2006 unfolds.

01/27/2006

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