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Florida leaders alarmed by plan to drill for oil on Gulf Coast

Dept. of Interior plans to lease Gulf for drilling
Posted at 6:04 PM, Jan 09, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-09 19:42:52-05

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — Republicans and Democrats in Florida found something they can agree on: they're against offshore oil drilling on the Florida Gulf coast.

In an open letter sent to the federal government, lawmakers from both parties expressed concern about a plan to roll back regulations, some of which were created after the infamous BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

"Fortunately, there was no oil on our beaches and no real physical damage, but the economic damages that occurred from that were catastrophic," says Keith Overton, the President of the TradeWinds Resort at St. Pete Beach.

Overton says tourists were scared to come to Florida after the 2010 spill, and now he pays close attention to anything that might impact what he sees as 'the Florida brand."

"It's warm sunshine, blue skies, sugary white sand beaches and anything that can threaten the entire state's economy," says Overton.

Trump administration announces plans for major rollback of offshore drilling bans

The plan now under review by the Department of the Interior, and requested by the White House, would allow oil drilling near Florida's Gulf coastline for the first time in decades.

Florida Democrats and Republicans in Congress, including Representatives Buchanon, Bilirakis, Castor, Ross, and Crist, among others, signed a letter Tuesday urging the Department to reconsider its plans.

Governor Rick Scott, and U.S. Senators to Florida Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, have also each individually voiced their opposition to the plan to drill.

The Secretary of the Department of the Interior wants to lease acres of the Gulf of Mexico, currently off-limits, for oil drilling, promising the plan would create new jobs and help the country become more energy independent.

Overton says he's not against offshore oil drilling, but not near Florida.

"There's plenty of ways to extract that without coming into near-shore waters of Florida and putting our economy at risk," he tells ABC Action News. 

Congress could intervene; Congresswoman Kathy Castor recently proposed a federal ban on oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico within 125 miles of the Florida coastline.

That proposed ban would need to be voted on soon, because if the Department of the Interior's plan moves forward, drilling in the eastern part of the Gulf could begin as soon as 2019.