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Candidates for Agriculture Commissioner Split on Drilling

Candidates for a Cabinet position that would have a large role in deciding individual requests to drill off Florida’s Gulf Coast if lawmakers were to allow it split Monday on the merits of the plan.

The controversial proposal to give the governor and Cabinet the ability to authorize drilling as close as three miles from Florida shores has emerged as a central issue that lawmakers may vote on next year. But former state Democratic Party chairman and current Agriculture Commissioner candidate Scott Maddox said that instead of studying the feasibility of the plan, Florida leaders should drill their answer down to one word: No.

“My response to those who say, ‘Drill baby drill,’ I say, ‘No baby no’” Maddox said in a statement. “Offshore drilling is not just bad for Florida’s environment; it will be a disaster for our economy, our tax structure and for our ability to bring good jobs to this state.”

In a news conference Monday, Maddox, who was the first directly elected mayor of the city of Tallahassee in 1996, compared the very public deliberations in the capital about the drilling proposal to a parent trying to sell a child, saying “where’s the moral outrage?”

“I hear a lot of elected officials saying ‘let’s take a look at this,’, but what I don’t hear enough of is that this is a bad idea,” he said.
“I can think of no better way to destroy our economy and hurt average Floridians than to mortgage our future on the risky proposition of putting oil rigs a few miles off our coast,” he elaborated in his prepared statement. “One spill would set coastal communities back several generations; we simply cannot risk it. Property values would drop, tourism would plummet, aquaculture would be wiped out, and the crown jewel of residential real estate would be irreparably harmed.”

In a telephone interview Monday with The News Service of Florida, Maddox’s potential Republican opponent U.S. Rep Adam Putnam disagreed, saying that unlike Maddox, he was keeping his options open.

“In Congress, I’ve worked with others to craft a compromise that resulted in opening up substantial new areas in the Gulf in a way that also protected the military mission, left near shore decisions in the hands of the states and allowed the states to share in any revenues that would be generated,” Putnam said. “As Florida contemplates what to do with its waters, I think those same standards should apply. We should proceed cautiously in a very open, transparent way.”

Putnam said he is, “unlike my opponent, open to considering those options.”

“I think it’s important to consider what new technology is out there and what new economic opportunities are out there,” he said. “There’s not really an abundance of statistics about what’s out there because it’s been so long since the Mineral Management Service has conducted a survey.”

Another Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate, Republican Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, did not respond to a request for comment Monday. Maddox’s opponent in the primary, former state representative and St. Lucie County Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor Rick Minton, told the News Service that he favored biofuels to more drilling as the way to solidify Florida’s energy future.

“I don’t think that’s a solution for our economy, to trade off one for another,” he said. “I think Farm-to-Fuel is a better approach for farmers. To risk our tourism industry up and down the coast to make a few Texas oilmen happy is the wrong approach.”

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