Miami Herald: Oil drilling becomes issue in U.S. Senate race

May 6, 2010

The Miami Herald published the following on May 5, 2010:


Rep. Kendrick Meek Wednesday backed two tough anti-oil industry bills, as the spill in the Gulf of Mexico began to emerge as a political dividing line in the U.S. Senate race.
Meek, the likely Democratic nominee for the Senate seat, and U.S. Sen Bill Nelson teamed up on legislation to block the Obama administration from carrying out plans to expand offshore drilling — at least until the cause of the Gulf spill is uncovered. Meek also co-sponsored legislation that could put oil giant BP on the hook for as much as $10 billion in damages.

“It’s time to put an end to any and every misguided attempt to drill offshore and put Florida’s coasts and economy at risk,” Meek said of the legislation he’s sponsoring with Nelson. “Any effort to revive offshore drilling needs to be stopped dead in its tracks.”

While Meek pushed the bills, his likely Republican rival, Marco Rubio, has declined to rule out additional offshore drilling.

“I’ve not heard anyone say you cannot safely drill for oil because there are thousands of rigs drilling even as we speak that are not leaking, that are not causing this ecological disaster,” Rubio said at a press availability Tuesday in Washington.

Rubio also said he hasn’t taken a position on how much of a buffer Florida should have from oil drilling. Nelson has asked the administration to stick with a 2006 congressional compromise that bans rigs any closer than 125 miles from Florida’s Panhandle and 235 miles from Tampa Bay.

“I don’t view this from a mileage standpoint. I view this from an energy standpoint,” Rubio said. “The question is: `Should the United States have access to all of its energy resources?’ And the answer to me is yes. It has to be done in a way that’s safe and clearly not destructive to your environment, to your ecology, or to your economy.”

Gov. Charlie Crist, who last week left the Republican Party to run for the Senate as an independent, Monday told reporters in Tallahassee that “all bets are off” when it comes to oil drilling.

“This is not far enough, this is not safe enough and it sure as heck is not clean enough,” said Crist, who had opposed drilling, but supported it while he was seeking to become John McCain’s running mate in 2008. “Given that, I think all bets are off. We’ve got to cease and desist as it relates to this.”

In the complicated politics of oil exploration, Rubio’s position puts him closer to President Obama and some Democratic senators who have been developing climate change legislation that includes expanded offshore drilling in a bid to lure Republicans. The White House has signaled it would support “significantly raising” the liability cap for the oil company, but has not said it will change course on the plans to expand drilling.

A spokesman for Meek, who urged caution when the Obama administration announced its oil drilling plans in March, criticized both Crist and Rubio for their drilling stances.

“Speaker Rubio comes from the `drill, baby, drill’ faction of the Republican Party and that’s where Gov. Crist was for a period as well,” spokesman Adam Sharon said. “But Gov. Crist has gone where the political winds have taken him and hasn’t held a firm position. Speaker Rubio has taken a firm position — it’s just the wrong one.”