Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bushes Make Deal on Gulf Oil Leases Plan Pushes Drilling 100 Miles off Coast

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bushes Make Deal on Gulf Oil Leases Plan Pushes Drilling 100 Miles off Coast

Article excerpt

Byline: Thomas B. Pfankuch, Times-Union staff writer

The Bush brothers ended a family political squabble yesterday with the announcement of a compromise that will allow new offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico but not within 100 miles of the Florida coast.

Gov. Jeb Bush, on vacation at the Bush family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, hailed the agreement as a "win for the people of Florida."

President Bush wants to tap oil and natural gas resources in the gulf as a way to slow the worsening energy crisis in America. Extensive drilling already occurs off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana and Alabama, and his administration had proposed selling new lease sites in a 5.9 million-acre area that reached within 17 miles of Pensacola Beach.

But the governor, facing a contentious re-election campaign next year, opposed gulf drilling so close to the coast, which has long been prohibited by a congressional moratorium.

The compromise reduces the lease sale area to about 1.5 million acres, all of which is at least 100 miles from the Florida shore.

Democrats decried the deal. Florida Democratic Party spokesman Tony Welch said the compromise could put Florida's pristine coastline and its critical tourism industry at risk.

"Florida is a lot closer to drilling and endangering its environment today than at any other point in the past three decades, and the Bush brothers are responsible for that," Welch said.

But Charles Lee, senior vice president of the Florida Audubon Society, said the compromise "sounds like a big improvement" over what had been proposed.

"I think most of us would prefer to prevent drilling anywhere in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, but it sounds like it's moving in the right direction, and the right direction is as far away from Florida as we can get it," he said.

The U.S. House, with the Florida delegation leading the effort, voted last week to block the 5.9 million-acre sale as part of an appropriations bill for the Interior Department. The Senate has not acted on the legislation, and it could be September before any ban could become law.

Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., criticized the deal and the Bushes, who he said are bowing to pressure of the oil industry they both have supported or worked in over the years.

"It is the proverbial camel's nose under the tent, to allow big oil companies into the rest of the Gulf of Mexico," Nelson said in a statement. "They [the Bush administration] are listening to the oil industry that supports their drilling plan and not listening to the millions of Floridians who oppose it."

Nelson has been an active opponent of oil and gas exploration in the eastern gulf.

Last week, in part as a reflection of his pique at the Bush administration's policy, he asked the Democratic leaders of the Senate to block the nomination of Steven Griles to the position of deputy secretary of the Interior. …

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