Federal legislation to permanently ban oil drilling and exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico took a huge step forward Wednesday after passing the House of Representatives 248-180.
H.R. 205, entitled “Protecting and Securing Florida’s Coastline Act of 2019,” which permanently extends the moratorium on drilling in areas of the Gulf of Mexico near the Florida coast.
If signed into law, the legislation would mean protection of critical military missions carried out in the eastern Gulf of Mexico in the Gulf Test and Training Range.
This range serves critical and unique functions for military operations that are not conducted anywhere else in the world. Established in 1953, the Eglin Gulf Test and Training Range is the largest overwater Department of Defense test and training area, handling cutting-edge technologies and training on land, in the water and in the air.
The range is protected by the Military Mission Line, delineated at longitude 86˚ 41’, and a moratorium on oil and gas drilling and exploration in the eastern Gulf of Mexico are both the result of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, better known as GOMESA.
But those protections are set to expire June 30, 2022, and already, oil and gas companies are lobbying to bring industry to the other side of the line with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management showing planned leases in their five-year plan.
This bill would stop that.
U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney represents the 19th District of Florida, and he is the author of the bill. He addressed the House Wednesday pointing to the economic impacts drilling could have on the state.
“I’ve talked repeatedly about the existential threat offshore drilling poses to us on the west coast of Florida,” Rooney said during session. “It jeopardizes our tourist and recreational economy. Last year 70% of Floridians voted to ban offshore drilling because tourism accounts for $37.4 billion of GDP, including $17.5 billion right there on the gulf coast, and supports over 600,000 jobs.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, who represents the western Florida panhandle, co-sponsored the bill. He spoke in favor of the measure before the House Wednesday ahead of the vote, stating drilling and oil exploration would endanger the critical military missions executed in the Gulf Test and Training Range.
“And I cannot believe that I have to come here to actually make the argument that it is an incredibly stupid idea to launch experimental missiles overactive oil rigs,” Gaetz said. “That would seem to be obvious to most people. I know it’s obvious to many in my district. This military mission is what keeps us safe.”
The bill still has to pass the conservative lead Senate and be signed off on by President Donald Trump before becoming law.
In a press release issued shortly after the House vote, Rooney called on Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio to champion the legislation in their chamber.