Crist says Senate’s not hearing drilling bill ‘appropriate’

Gov. Charlie Crist said this morning that it’s “appropriate” that the Senate apparently won’t hear before the legislative session ends a House bill that would lift the ban on drilling for oil and gas within three miles of the coast.

“While I believe that it’s worthwhile studying and looking into for energy independence for our state and our country, the lateness of the hour as it relates to the session as well as the closeness to our shore concern me,” Crist told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in the Capitol.

HB 1219 would establish a process for the governor and Cabinet to grant oil drilling leases within state waters between three and 10 miles of the coastline. Supporters said drilling could be done without harming the environment but opponents said the bill puts the state’s tourism economy and seafood industry at risk.

The bill, which was approved Monday by the House on a 70-43 vote, was amended in its final committee stop last week to allow drilling. Previously the bill only called on the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to recommend a plan for drilling while protecting the coast. The proposal was not heard by Senate committees.

The session was scheduled to end on Friday. But Senate President Jeff Atwater and House Speaker Larry Cretul announced today they would extend the session through May 8 only to deal with budget issues, according to the News Service of Florida.

Atwater told reporters Monday night that there wasn’t time to hear the drilling bill in the Senate before the session. And he said he couldn’t imagine there would be time in a special session to take it up.

“That is a really significant, significantly important issue and one that frankly at our end would take some serious review and really understand how far the science has come,” Atwater said. “And we haven’t had any covering of that matter to date.”

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, said the issue isn’t going away. He said he still hopes the bill can be heard by the Legislature before the session ends.

“It takes all three of them to tango — the governor, the Senate and the House,” Mica said.

See Alex Leary’s video of Atwater’s comments.

Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Please do not redistribute without permission.