The House earlier this year approved a bill to allow oil drilling in Florida’s Gulf waters as close as three miles to the coast. But the Senate refused to act on the bill, which faced environmental opposition.
With drilling legislation expected to come back in 2010 or earlier in a special session, Atwater, R-Palm Beach, said outlined the issues that must be studied by the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.
“Offshore drilling is a complicated issue with significant ramifications for our state,” Atwater said. “The citizens of Florida deserve a thoughtful and deliberative conversation free of rancor or hyperbole, and the Senate intends to provide a structure for that conversation within our body.”
Other groups including Florida State University and the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida are also conducting their own analyses with possible results prior to the 2010 session, Atwater said. But a Senate news release indicated that the analysis “will be driven by the need for dispassionate review, not timelines or schedules.”
Eric Draper, an outspoken drilling opponent and a vice president of Audubon of Florida, said Atwater’s announcement was encouraging.
“Finally we’ve got a legislative leader who is slowing the process down to decide on an evaluation,” he said. “When they finish looking at everything they may end up deciding maybe we don’t need to consider this legislatively.”
Ryan Banfill, a spokesman for Florida Energy Associates, said of Atwater’s announcement: “The facts are on our side and we support moving forward with this historic discussion about establishing an energy sector in our economy that will create jobs for Floridians and generate money for the state.”
(Audubon’s Eric Draper was incorrectly identified as a drilling supporter in an earlier version of this story. FloridaEnvironments.com regrets the error.)
(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)