Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Senator Bill Nelson threatens to block energy bill in latest effort to prevent drilling off Florida’s gulf coast

United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

MEDIA ADVISORY: Feb. 3, 2016

Ryan Brown, communications director
Emily Rogers, press secretary
Rhoda Krause, deputy press secretary
Tim Rennie, press assistant

Nelson threatens to block energy bill in latest effort to prevent drilling off Florida’s coast

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D- FL) took to the Senate floor this afternoon to make it clear to his Senate colleagues that he intends to block any effort to repeal a current no-drilling zone that extends 125 miles off much of Florida's Gulf Coast and as far out as 235 miles at some points.

“An amendment that is suspected to be offered by a senator here is going to give incentive … to try to put oil out there,” Nelson said. “Ever since this senator was a young congressman, I have been carrying this battle.  And I can tell you, Mr. President, this senator is not going to let that happen.”

Nelson made the remarks as the Senate continues its consideration of a broader energy bill. The amendment Nelson opposes is one offered by Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana to increase the amount of revenue a state would receive if it allows drilling activities off its coast.

Nelson has been a long-time opponent of having oil rigs too close to Florida, often citing the state’s unique environment; its multi-billion dollar, tourism-driven economy; and the vital national military training areas in the Gulf as reasons why drilling should not be allowed there.

In 2006, he and then-Sen. Mel Martinez successfully brokered a deal to ban drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast through the year 2022.  Nelson filed legislation last year to extend the ban an additional five years, to 2027, and has continuously vowed to do whatever is necessary to keep the ban in place.

Following is a rush transcript and here’s a link to watch video of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
February 3, 2016

Sen. Nelson: Mr. President, I have raced to the floor simply because it has come to my attention that there are some Senators that are utilizing this energy bill, which is an energy bill for a very valued purpose, a purpose of energy efficiency, and they're utilizing this for their own purposes in proposing amendments that ultimately will threaten the environmental integrity off of Florida's coast and will threaten the United States Military in its ability to maintain the largest testing and training area for the United States Military in the world, which is the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida.
Mr. President, I want to refer you to a map of the Gulf of Mexico. And I want to show you everything -- here is the tip of Florida. This is Pensacola. This is Naples. Tampa. Down here is the Florida Keys; Key West. Everything in yellow, the Gulf of Mexico, in law until 2022, is off-limits to drilling.
It happens to be a bipartisan law that was passed back in 2006, cosponsored by my then-fellow senator from Florida, a Republican, Mel Martinez, and the two of us put this in law. Why? The drilling is over here: everything to the west.
Well, the first reason is where is the oil? The oil is off where Mother Nature had the sediments coming down the Mississippi River for millions of years, and they were compacted into the Earth's crust and it became oil. And the oil deposits are off of Louisiana, Texas, a little bit off of Mississippi, and Alabama. There really isn't much oil out here.
But why in addition did we want this area kept from drilling? Well, take a look at that. That's a marsh in Louisiana as a result of the gulf oil spill several years ago. We certainly don't want this in Florida, but, Mr. President, if you notice, off of Louisiana, there are not many beaches. Off of Mississippi, there are not many beaches. Off of Alabama, not many beaches. But what do you think Florida is known for? Its pristine beaches all the way from the Perdido River, which is the Florida-Alabama line, all the way down the coast, all the way to Naples, and then, Mr. President, not only the Keys, but up the East Coast of Florida.
Florida has more beaches than any other state. Florida has more coastline than any other state, save for Alaska, and Alaska doesn't have a lot of beaches. People come to Florida in large part not only because of Mickey Mouse, but also because of our beaches.
And when they saw this oil on the white, sugary sands of Pensacola Beach that had turned black as a result of that gulf oil spill, which was way over here, but it did drift to the east and it got as far as Pensacola. A little bit more got as far east as Destin. A little bit more, just a few tar balls on Panama City beach. But when the people of America saw those white, sugary sand beaches black from oil, they assumed that that had happened to the entire coast of Florida, and as a result, people didn't come. For one whole season.
So what happened to Florida’s economy? What happened to the dry cleaners and the restaurants and the hotels that all are so welcoming of our guests, our visitors who didn't come? You get the picture of what happened to our economy.
And I’m speaking of this as the senator from Florida, but now let me speak as the senator who is the second ranking democrat on the Armed Services Committee.
Mr. President, this area is known as the Military Mission Line. Everything east of that line, indeed almost all of the Gulf of Mexico, is the largest training and testing area for the United States military in the world.
Why do you think that the training for the F-22 is at Tyndall Air Force Base at Panama City? Why do you think that the training for the new F-35 joint strike fighter, both foreign pilots as well as our own, why do you think that's at Eglin Air Force Base? It’s because they've got this area. Why is the United States Air Force training test and evaluation headquarters at Fort Walton, Eglin Air Force Base, because they have got 300 miles here that they can test some of my -- our most sophisticated weapons. And you talk to any admiral or general, and they will tell you you cannot have oil-related activities when we are testing some of our most sophisticated weapons. This is a national asset, and it is key to our national defense.
So for all those reasons, Senator Martinez and I put in law this is off-limits up until the year 2022, but now comes a law, sneaky amendments on this energy bill giving additional revenue sharing to these states and upper states on the Atlantic seaboard, giving them - the states - a financial incentive to get a cut of the oil revenue. What do you think that's going to do to the government of the state of Florida in the future as an excuse to put drilling out here? As well as to put drilling off the east coast of Florida.
Mr. president, when I was a young congressman, I faced two secretaries of the interior who were absolutely intent that they were going to drill on the east coast of the United States from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, all the way south to Fort Pierce, Florida. And the only way way back then -- that was back in the early 1980's, in the mid 1980's -- the only way that we were able to get that stopped, which this young congressman had a hand in doing, was to explain you can't have oil rigs off of Cape Canaveral where we're dropping the first stages of all of our military rockets that are so essential for us to get assured access into space in order to protect ourselves with all of those space assets.
And of course, in the early 1980's, I could talk about what was going to happen for 135 flights of the space shuttle. You can't have oil-related activities where the first stages, the solid rocket boosters on the space shuttle are going to be landing by parachutes in the ocean, because you were going to threaten the launch facilities for the United States military as well as NASA if you put oil-related activities out there.
And so, too, in another two years we will be launching humans again on American rockets, some of whose first stages will still be crashing into the Atlantic and whose military defense payloads continue to launch almost every month and those first days. And those first stages splashdown out in the Atlantic.
And yet an amendment that is suspected to be offered by a senator here is going to give incentive in the future, all the more pressure to try to put oil out there.
Mr. President, ever since this senator was a young congressman, I have been carrying this battle. This senator supports oil drilling. This senator supports where it's environmentally sound fracking in shale rock, because look what it's done for us. But there are times when there is trade-off, and in this case, there is not going to be a trade-off, in the first place, because there's not any oil; in the second place, because it would wreck the economy of Florida with our tourism and our sugary white beaches. But in the third place, it would threaten the national security of this country, if you eliminated this as our largest testing -- test and training evaluation center.
And I can tell you, Mr. President, this senator is not going to let that happen.
Mr. President, I yield the Floor.