Associated Industries wants oil drilling on special session agenda

Florida’s oldest business group today said it wants the Legislature to take up oil drilling during an expected special session this fall.

Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday that he may call a special session in October to adopt a gambling revenues agreement with the Seminole Tribe and that he would like drilling to be on the agenda. Associated Industries of Florida today said oil drilling is an “urgent imperative” to address the state’s economic woes, including unemployment.

“There is no better way to recognize, honor and support Florida’s workforce than for our leaders to create employment opportunities for nearly 1 million Floridians who are currently out of work,” AIF President and CEO Barney Bishop said. “Energy production would put tens of thousands of Floridians to work.”

But the idea of dealing with drilling legislation was immediately rejected by an Audubon of Florida representative. He also said Senate leadership was not behind the idea.

There’s been a flurry of activity on the drilling issue this week following a St. Petersburg Times story reporting on a secretive group of drilling supporters that wants the state’s drilling ban lifted. (Click here for link to story)

House Speaker Larry Cretul hasn’t said whether he supports holding a special session on any issue. The Senate is reviewing the proposed Seminole compact and it would be premature to discuss a special session, said a spokeswoman for Senate President Jeff Atwater.

Sen. Mike Harodopolous, R-Melbourne and the likely Senate President in 2010, said this week he supports drilling. But he also said that the issue shouldn’t be covered in a special session unless everyone’s concerns can be addressed, according to the News Service of Florida.

In the news release issued today, Bishop said oil drilling would create more than 40,000 jobs in Florida. Opponents say claims of jobs and state revenues are overly speculative.

The drilling issue, Bishop said, “demands the kind of focus it would receive in a special session.”

On the contrary, Audubon Vice Presiden Eric Draper said in response.

“Special sessions are usually places where the deals are cut before people get together and meet,” he told “Major issues going through regular sessions have the benefit of many committee meetings and a full airing before all the substantive committees with complex issues.”

He continued: “I don’t think the governor really gave thought to the complexity of this issue or the difficulty in evaluating the legislative changes to make sure we’re actually protecting the environment.”

Download AIF’s news release by clicking here.

(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission)