House Votes to Ban Offshore Drilling, Throwing Down Gauntlet for Trump, GOP
WASHINGTON – Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., couldn’t be happier that the House Wednesday passed a pair of bills blocking offshore oil drilling in almost all waters around the United States.
But in an interview with The Well News, he acknowledged that the real work lies ahead — getting a companion bill introduced and passed in the Senate and ultimately signed by President Donald Trump.
“We’ve passed our bill,” said Rooney, who introduced H.R. 205, the Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019, which permanently bans oil and gas exploration in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. It passed by a vote of 248-180.
“Now we’ve got to put it on Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to see if they can deliver for Florida the same way the Florida delegation in the House is delivering now,” he said.
Asked about the status of those efforts, Rooney said his staff has been working with Rubio’s staff on the drilling issue “for a long time” and that he believes Scott is at least sympathetic “to the concept” of banning offshore drilling because “we’ve spoken with Trump together about it.”
“Trump didn’t say much,” during that meeting, Rooney said.
On Monday, the administration officially came out against his bill and the two other offshore drilling measures in the House, H.R. 1941 and H.R. 1146.
H.R. 1941, also known as the Coastal and Marine Economies Protection Act, also passed Wednesday, by a vote of 238-189.
Sponsored by Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., it prevents the Interior Secretary from including any drilling off the Pacific or Atlantic coasts in its offshore oil and gas leasing plan.
A third bill, H.R. 1146, the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., would prohibit drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain. The full House is expected to vote on it on Thursday.
Rooney was philosophical about the White House opposition.
“This administration hasn’t exactly been environmentally friendly,” he said.
Offshore Drilling Not A Partisan Issue
Representative Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., could barely contain his excitement Wednesday as the vote got underway.
“I’ve got to level with y’all here, I’m pretty damn excited about today,” he said to reporters gathered on the triangle outside the Capitol.
“This is personal for me. You can’t live in South Carolina’s low country and not feel protective of our natural resources. The beauty of it simply takes your breath away,” he said. “That’s why South Carolinians on both sides of the aisle have sent the message loud and clear. We don’t want offshore drilling and we don’t need offshore drilling.”
Cunningham said while the road to securing passage of the bills was long, “along the way, we’ve proven to folks that opposition to offshore drilling is not a partisan issue.”
“In my state of South Carolina. I’ve worked with coastal mayors up and down our coast and [Republican] Gov. Henry McMaster to oppose offshore drilling. I’ve been inspired by the work of the [GOP-controlled South Carolina State House this year … and I’ve been thrilled to have Congressman Rooney’s support.
“Frankly, it’s rare today to find something that Democrats and Republicans agree on in such a hyper-partisan time, but this is a bipartisan effort that’s good for our states, our beaches and, most importantly, our country.”
Cunningham said coastal conservation has been a lifelong passion.
“I’ve loved the water since I was a little kid. I grew up on the water. I even majored in ocean engineering in college because I wanted to make a living on the water,” he said. “As an ocean engineer, I got a real understanding of what can go wrong out there on the water and I learned that more often than not what can go wrong, does go wrong, especially when you’re dealing with offshore oil rigs. Exposed to a marine and corrosive environment, something is going to break down and something is going to spill. If we have learned anything from the past, it’s that when you drill, you spill. No one should be comfortable exposing our shorelines to that risk.”
Vast Majority of Coastal Voters Say No to Drilling
Like Cunningham, Rooney came by his own concerns about offshore drilling naturally. A businessman before being elected to Congress in 2016, he represents a district on Florida’s southwest coast that encompasses the cities of Naples and Fort Myers as well as Captiva, Sanibel and Marco Island.
“People in Florida just don’t want offshore drilling,” Rooney said. “They don’t want it near Florida and they don’t even want to be near the specter of the damage it could cause. I mean, the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred a long way from Florida, there were no currents to steer the oil spill toward Florida, and still we suffered a lot of lost trips and bookings and fishing excursions and everything else.”
In addition to those concerns, Rooney said there simply is no rationale for expanding oil and gas exploration at this time.
“It’s not like we are fighting for our energy independence anymore,” he said. “It’s not 1973. We are energy independent in the western hemisphere, and there’s simply no reason to subject Florida to this level of risk.”
Representative Kathy Castor, a Tampa Democrat who along with Rep. Cunningham provided bipartisan co-sponsorship of Rooney’s bill (Rooney did the same for Cunningham’s legislation), said “Florida’s beautiful beaches and our economy are tied to clean water and clean air.”
“Oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico poses a serious threat to our natural environment, our economy and our national security. According to the Department of Defense, the Gulf is a vital training area critical to readiness. That’s why prohibiting oil drilling off Florida’s coast is paramount.”
Rooney said while he’s satisfied with the outcome of Wednesday’s House vote, he would have liked to have seen more of his fellow Republicans support the bills.
That, of course, begged the question of what kind of carrot or stick he might be able to employ to get Republicans in the Senate and White House to support a ban on offshore drilling.
“Well, I think the carrot is, the Republicans want to carry Florida in 2020,” Rooney said after a moment’s consideration. “My district is very Republican, conservative, and yet something like 70% of the voters in my district say the government needs to deal with climate change and sea level rise.
“And just last year in Florida, voters made their feelings known on 12 constitutional amendments, including one to ban offshore oil and gas drilling, and it passed by 70% — something like 5 million votes. It was one of the highest vote-getters on the whole deal. And I think Republicans want to get some of the support of some of those people,” he said.
Cunningham was a bit more forceful.
“We demand that this government respect the wishes of the coastal communities we represent and who have been so vocal in their opposition to offshore drilling and the seismic air gun blasting that goes along with it,” he said. “We are going to send [these bills] over to the Senate and we’re going to make it very, very clear to our friends over there that the people have spoken and the message is our beaches, our businesses and our way of life are not for sale. Not here. Not now. Not ever.”