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Drilling Issue Dead, For Now

Gov. Charlie Crist declared the issue of drilling off the Florida coast effectively dead Monday as he monitored the latest news surrounding an oil spill caused by an explosion on a BP rig last month.

“It hasn't happened in Florida, but it happened in Louisiana and we may suffer as a result of it,” he said. “But I think the timeliness of when this occurred is pretty extraordinary when you think about it because there may have been legislation in this last week that would have permitted it, but for this occurring.”

Incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Designate Dean Cannon have pushed for offshore oil drilling in Florida for the past two years. The two have held hearings over the past year on the subject to garner support for the proposal. With the two of them set to lead the two chambers come November 2010, oil drilling was expected to become a major part of their platforms.

A committee led by Cannon had even released a report talking about the potential benefits of drilling.

But when the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, the two incoming leaders were less fervent in their support of drilling, saying they needed to monitor the situation closely and tour the coastal areas.

"We're going to take the entire summer and fall to see, first and foremost, what happened in the Gulf," Haridopolos told reporters last week. "It gives me great pause. But a tragedy does not stop all progress."

Nearly every major candidate for office has weighed in on the issue. Chief Financial Officer and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink called for disaster loans and an oil spill task force Monday afternoon. And Attorney General Bill McCollum said last week that he would veto Cannon's proposal if he were governor because it involved drilling too close to the shore.

"If I'm governor, he'll face a veto on my desk if he brings it up the way it is now," McCollum said last week.

State Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, who is running for attorney general, put out a release saying he was “inalterably opposed” to drilling. What potential Cabinet members think matters because under the proposal as it was last floated, the Cabinet would ultimately decide on new leases.

“I don't think we need to study it, I think we need to reject it outright and put the entire idea where it belongs: in our rear view mirror,” Gelber said.

Scott Maddox, a Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner, held a press conference Monday asking all candidates for Cabinet positions to sign a pledge saying they would not support offshore oil drilling in Florida.

“No state in the nation is dependent on its beaches for tourism the way Florida is,” he said.

His Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, also released a statement saying he was “deeply concerned” about the economic and ecological impact of the spill.

“It is clear to every elected official, from the President on down that consideration of any new exploration closer to shore needs to be taken off the table and we need to have a thorough investigation into what happened and the inability of the industry to effectively respond,” Putnam said.

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