A decision to exempt Florida from a federal plan opening more waters to oil and gas exploration is not final. Supporters and opponents were out Thursday for the federal government’s first and only public Florida hearing on its proposed five-year plan.
Confusion arose in January when, after a brief meeting, both U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Florida Governor Scott said Florida would be off the table. That was contradicted shortly after by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which held its first and only public Florida hearing Thursday in Tallahassee. The meeting drew scores of environmentalists, like the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s Susan Glickman.
“As been said before, we’re in a tourism-based economy. It would crush us, and those of us who lived through the 2010 Deepwater Horizon saw what it did to our communities.”
That 2010 oil spill was the worst in U.S. History. The hearing also drew support from groups who want to see the process play out. Yet there is a point of agreement: neither side fully believes Florida is off-the-table for offshore energy exploration.
“If you’re right, then why are the environmentalists here?" says lobbyist Barney Bishop. "Why are they raising hell about this issue if ‘no’ is ‘no’. Because you know what? No is never no. Ya’ll don’t know about the discussions being held in private. ‘No’ publicly can mean a whole lot of things in private.”
The BOEM says it will hosts other forums throughout the comment period in state capitols. Regional Director Mark Celata says the agency could make a decision on Florida later this year.