Tuesday, May 22, 2018

For 10th Time, Floridians Join Hands Across the Sand to Say NO to Oil Rigs!

Floridians reached across the partisan divide for the 9th consecutive year Saturday to join Hands Across the Sand at their favorite local beach to say no to offshore oil drilling and yes to clean energy. While torrential rain forced the cancellation of some Hands events, the sun shone on Clearwater Beach, one of America’s most popular beaches. 

L-R: Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard of Largo, Clearwater Mayor
George Cretekos, Congressman Charlie Crist, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson. 
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, considered by many to be America’s #1 champion of clean, thriving beach economies, joined Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos and other prominent local elected officials: County Commissioners Pat Gerard and Janet Long, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and U.S. Representative Charlie Crist. Crist, who now represents Clearwater, St. Pete and the Pinellas beaches in Congress, has been a long time participant, dating back to his time as Florida’s Republican Governor. 

Mayor Cretekos observed that two out of five jobs in Pinellas County come from beach tourism, a number found all along Florida’s shores.

Sierra Club and Environment Florida held a press conference before the Hands event, hosted by Jana Offner Wiggins of Sea Shepherd, with assistance from the Suncoast Rise Above Plastics Coalition, Suncoast Sierra Club, the Suncoast Surfrider Foundation, the Center for Biological Diversity, Organize Tampa and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.
Environment Florida State Director Jennifer Rubiello hosts Hands
Across the Sand press conference at Clearwater Beach. 

Hands Across the Sand started in February 2010 when state legislators considered opening Florida’s territorial waters to offshore drilling, which prompted a Panhandle restaurant owner to dream up this simple, yet powerful way for people to make a statement: Say NO to offshore drilling and dirty fuels; Say YES to clean energy for all. It grew to a worldwide event during the Deepwater Horizon gulf oil disaster that spring, and has continued as a way for people to express their support for clean beaches, clean technology and healthy oceans. 

Floridians in both parties now agree that new drilling would be a foolish risk to take with our state’s #1 industry – the folks who come from all over the world to visit our pristine beaches.

The gathering and show of support by hundreds of Floridians, thousands across the state, could not have been more timely. Two news reports since Saturday's event show how the current debate on new drilling in Florida's eastern gulf could easily go either way. 

On one hand: “Emboldened by a Defense Department report that expressed worries about unfettered offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s House delegation is preparing to throw its weight around to win a multiyear extension of a moratorium off its coasts”, ” [Roll Call, 5/21/18]. 
The late Congressman C.W. Bill Young spoke at the 
very 1st Hands Across the Sand event back in 
Feb. 2010 at St. Pete Beach. For years Young 
kept Florida's Republican congressional delegation 
in line, opposing drilling. Clearwater Mayor 
Cretekos was Rep. Young's long time district director.

While at the same time, however, "House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) are leading talks with a group of lawmakers to find a path to opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling. The departments of Defense and the Interior briefed a group of lawmakers from the five Gulf Coast states — including Florida — on the issue last week, according to Scalise’s office. ‘Both departments agreed that with appropriate restrictions and proper coordination by the two departments, there are some areas in the federal waters of the eastern Gulf that could support both military and energy activities,’ a Scalise spokesperson said.” [E&E News,5/22/18].  

Senator Nelson has long pointed out how the eastern gulf, free of oil rigs that could be damaged and in turn damage the gulf, is of vital importance for military preparedness as the nation's only available site for practice bombing maneuvers. The eastern gulf is the only U.S. shoreline that is protected from drilling by federal law - the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) of 2006. It appears we could either lose this protection, if drilling advocates get their way, or extend it past its current expiration date of 2022. Florida's congressional delegation, led by Senator Nelson, is fighting right now for the latter. 
Even if there's never any drilling, seismic testing threatens the lives
of an estimated 187,000 whales and dolphins in the southern Atlantic
Ocean, thousands more in the Gulf of Mexico. 

As St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said Saturday, "The threat doesn't ever seem to go away. It's like a vampire that keeps coming back." 

With a massive electrification of Florida’s cars and buses now possible with the state’s $166 million from the VW diesel scandal settlement, we’ll soon need less oil, not more. It’s time for Big Oil to finally go away and let kids play on our beaches. 

Phil Compton 
Senior Organizing Representative
Sierra Club's FL Healthy Air & 
Ready for 100 Campaigns
1990 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, FL 33712
(o) 727-824-8813, ext. 303      (c) 813-841-3601