One thing most Floridians can agree on is that Florida is special. We enjoy beautiful weather, one of the nation’s best education systems, incredible beaches, a military infrastructure vital to our way of life, a $1 trillion and growing annual economy and a shared spirit of optimism about our future.
However, it is going to take a strong collective effort on all our parts to truly secure Florida’s future.
That’s because in 2022, the current moratorium on drilling for oil virtually anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico expires.
If Congress fails to generate bipartisan support, and the current moratorium expires, oil platforms could be sitting just nine miles off Florida’s coastline, where Florida waters end and federal waters begin.
Perhaps that fact alone got your attention. I hope so.
But there’s more to the story.
There will be no protections in place unless, before 2022, a majority of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and a supermajority of 60 bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate reach agreement on some form of extension that the President would agree to sign into law.
Given the partisanship and political stalemate right now in our nation’s capital, this is no small order.
President Donald Trump has called for the United States to achieve not just energy independence, but energy dominance. This is certainly a worthy goal, to ensure we are not constantly held hostage for our energy needs by regimes that rarely have our interests at heart, like Venezuela and Iran.
A major building block of the Trump Administration’s energy dominance goal is the upcoming Department of Interior five-year plan.
As Floridians, we would be wise to assume that opening up new energy exploration areas in the Gulf of Mexico could be part of the federal plan.
Equally, we must understand that the combination of this forthcoming plan and the impending end to the drilling moratorium requires us to act to set the terms which will protect Florida and its unparalleled natural beauty.
We don’t doubt that somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, far from our shores, there are energy resources that can be safely extracted and contribute to the economy and energy security of the U.S. There are already 2,557 active leases and 3,200 active oil drilling platforms in the Gulf now, distant from our beaches and ocean views.
To provide certainty for Florida, leaders in Congress must begin meaningful negotiations to address this challenge. We understand that this will be a difficult process and that some compromises will be necessary. However, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is prepared to support a negotiated plan so long as it meets the following requirements:
- Protects Florida’s beautiful beaches and natural habitats, which are the core of our quality of life and a major reason why 124.6 million people visited Florida last year – and an additional 50 million will visit us annually.
- Does no harm to our world-class, tourism-based economy, which supports 1.4 million jobs and brings more than $90 billion to our state each year.
- Exists in harmony with the current and future military operations – including Space Force – that take place in the Gulf of Mexico. Those missions are vital to our national security, and the military and defense sectors contribute $84.9 billion annually to our economy.
These are the principles we will advocate be addressed in any negotiations in Congress, and they should inform any deal that sets forth what will happen after 2022. We also will ensure that any final deal guarantees that if exploration does happen in the Gulf, it will only happen at a significant enough distance away to protect what makes Florida special.
We must not lose sight of the reality that if Congress fails to act it means the current moratorium expires in barely three years, and we could be seeing oil rigs from Naples, Clearwater, Destin or any of our beautiful beaches.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce is and will always be engaged in protecting Florida’s interests and securing its future, so we will vigorously seek support for a compromise that meets our three requirements.
Florida is special and we must unite as Floridians to keep it that way. If we all work together, we can secure a deal that meets these three non-negotiable principles and protects the natural beauty we all love.
Mark Wilson is President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at email@example.com.