Two senators want panel to explore oil drilling

Two Democratic senators today said they are proposing legislation to require creation of a new panel to look at the risks and benefits of drilling off of Florida’s coastline.

Sen. David Aronberg of Greenacres and Sen. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton said environmental and energy experts need more time to look into the drilling issue, which Gov. Charlie Crist suggests should be included in a special session this fall.

“This whole ‘Drill baby, drill’ mentality I think needs to slow down and calm down,” Aronberg told reporters during a Capitol news conference today. “Drill baby, drill” was chanted by Republicans at their 2008 national convention.

“What’s at stake is not just our 2009-10 budget — it’s the future of the state of Florida,” he said.

A bill to lift Florida’s ban on drilling passed the House in April but died during the regular session when the Senate refused to take it up because of lack of time.

Supporters say the Gulf should be opened to drilling to provide jobs and state revenue from royalties from oil and gas production. Environmental groups say drilling threatens fishing and Florida’s beach tourism economy.

The proposed bill would create the nine-member Florida Energy Independence and Coastal Protection Task Force. The panel would report on the following:

* The size of potential oil and gas deposits in state waters
* The effect on tourism and coastal communities of lifting the ban
* The effect on property values caused by leasing and drilling
* Forecasts of revenues to be paid by the state
* Efforts to reduce foreign oil dependence while increasing energy efficiency and the use of alternatives.

The governor would appoint three members to the proposed task force, the Senate and House Republican majority leaders each would appoint two and the House and Senate Democratic minority members each would appoint one.

The Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida on Monday agreed to hold a summit of major stakeholders in the drilling issue, according to the News Service of Florida. Deutch said he had not seen from the Century Commission a detailed list of what the panel will be studied.

Aronberg said the panel is not an effort to prevent drilling and he said the task force may recommend lifting the ban.

“This is not an attempt to obstruct the process,” he said. “It is an attempt to make the process a lot better.”

Ryan Banfill, a spokesman for groups supporting drilling said, “We welcome all inputs to this opportunity to preserve our environment, employ our citizens and contribute to American energy independence.”

“Open-minded, thoughtful approaches to offshore exploration will bring economic stability to Florida and a much needed new revenue stream to our state’s tax base,” he said.

(Copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)