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House passes bill to permanently ban offshore drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast

Alex Daugherty, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives passed a bill to permanently ban offshore drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday, a move Florida lawmakers said will help the state's tourism industry and military installations.

The bill, Protecting and Securing Florida's Coastline Act, passed on a vote of 248-180, with 21 Republicans joining 227 Democrats in favor. Four Democrats and one independent, along with 175 Republicans, voted against the bill.

Rep. Francis Rooney, Florida's most pro-environment Republican member of Congress, sponsored the legislation and 12 other Florida lawmakers from both parties signed on.

"I think it's an important first step," Rooney said in an interview with the Miami Herald. "We're all going to have to all work together to convince President Trump that this is so important for Florida, that he's got to support us on this."

Rooney's bill now heads to the U.S. Senate, where Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has a bill that would also ban offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, but only through 2027. Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott has signed onto Rubio's bill.

A congressional source said the White House issued a veto threat on Rooney's bill because the Trump administration is uncomfortable with a permanent ban on offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, though the White House is open to Rubio's plan.

 

Rooney said a permanent ban would help stabilize the state's fishing and tourism industries. He noted that business on Florida's west coast suffered after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, even though the environmental effects were mainly limited to the Florida Panhandle hundreds of miles away.

"We still suffered a lot of economic damage," Rooney said. "Fishermen, restaurants and hotels had to close. In the tourism industry, perceptions become the reality."

The boundary for the proposed offshore drilling ban would match the current moratorium map that expires in 2022. Offshore drilling is permitted in central and western portions of the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas and Louisiana coasts, and lawmakers in those states generally oppose restrictions on drilling.

Under the current moratorium, offshore drilling on Florida's Gulf Coast is not permitted within 125 miles of the coast. Drilling is also not permitted further offshore in portions of the eastern Gulf so the military can use that section of the open sea for testing purposes.

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