The Collier County Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday in support of Congressman Francis Rooney’s efforts to stop a proposal to expand oil drilling off the coast of Florida.
Last week, the Trump administration’s Department of the Interior proposed allowing exploration and drilling in areas of the Gulf of Mexico that have previously been off limits. The move quickly drew bipartisan opposition from Florida politicians including Rooney, Senator Bill Nelson, and Governor Rick Scott.
“Based on media reports, it is likely that the Department of the Interior will consider Florida as a potential state for offshore oil drilling — which is something I oppose in Florida,” Scott said in a prepared statement Thursday. “I have already asked to immediately meet with Secretary Zinke to discuss the concerns I have with this plan and the crucial need to remove Florida from consideration.”
Rooney said that Florida should be exempted from any plans to expand drilling due to its tourism based economy and the military training that takes place in its waters.
“Nearly all of Florida’s economy relies directly or indirectly on a tourism economy,” Rooney wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “The effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster hit Florida tourism especially hard, despite oil only reaching the easternmost parts of the Florida panhandle. The fear of spoiled beaches led to cancellations and a dip that lasted two years.”
Commissioner Donna Fiala agreed, worrying about what the impacts of drilling operations off Florida’s coastline could have in the minds of potential visitors to the area.
“I’ve got pictures in my office of what the coast looks like with the waters of the Gulf of Mexico in Texas and all of those oil wells all over. I don’t know that there are places for people to swim because there so many of them. It’s clustered with them,“ said Fiala. “Our main source of income is tourism, and that would certainly not bring them here.”
The issue is particularly thorny for Scott and Rooney, who have been very vocal about their support for President Trump. Both men have used lunch meetings with Trump to discuss issues that are popular with Florida voters, and publicized that fact widely.
Commissioner Penny Taylor said that Rooney’s willingness to oppose a policy proposal from an administration he has otherwise supported was admirable.
“I think it’s courageous, he is bucking the system, but I think it is a very important position to take,” said Taylor.
While the move by Rooney and Scott may cause some friction, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that the disagreement would not damage the administration’s relationship with the swing-state governor.
“Our goal certainly isn’t to cross Governor Scott,” Sanders said during a daily press briefing. “Just because we may differ on issues from time to time doesn’t mean that we can’t have an incredibly strong and good relationship.”
Information from The News Service of Florida was used in this report
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