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Guest Commentary: A major step forward for environmental protection
September 18, 2019

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On Wednesday, the House of Representatives took a big step forward in protecting Florida's coastal environment and its economy. By a vote of 248 to 180, the House passed HR 205, the bill I introduced to make permanent the moratorium on drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico (EGOM), east of the Military Mission Line. The current moratorium was enacted by Republican President George W. Bush, with the bipartisan support of both United States Senators from Florida, Mel Martinez and Bill Nelson.

Drilling in the Eastern Gulf would negatively affect our environment, tourism, and military readiness. I want to ensure that all areas east of the Military Mission Line in the Gulf of Mexico are permanently protected from offshore oil drilling. Making the moratorium, which expires in 2022, permanent is critical for Florida and for our military preparedness.

The Eastern Gulf is home to the Gulf Test Range, a 120,000-square-mile range that stretches from the Florida Panhandle to Key West. This unimpeded training and testing area is of critical importance to our military now and will become even more important in the future, as hypersonic and drone testing increase. Our military has no better location to carry out these exercises and there is no compelling reason to place drilling interests ahead of military necessities.

As the May 2018 Department of Defense report "Preserving Military Readiness in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico" clearly shows, the military is planning to increase testing in the EGOM in the future. In one of its most poignant references, the Department of Defense called the EGOM an "irreplaceable national asset" for combat force readiness and for accomplishing the goals of the 2018 National Defense Strategy.

It is important to mention the more than $70 billion in economic impact Florida's military bases have on our state, according to research by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

As concerning as our military's ability to train, is the adverse environmental and economic impact drilling in the EGOM could have on Florida. Our beaches drive more than $100 billion in tourism revenue. Coastal communities and businesses - charter boat captains, hotels, restaurants, recreational outlets, tourist services of all types - all depend on a healthy marine environment. Even the most remote risk or perception thereof undermines our tourism-driven economy.

Deepwater Horizon may be the most infamous disaster that spewed oil into our Gulf, however there are many occurrences of leaks still happening, such as the Taylor Energy spill, which has dumped over one million gallons of oil over 14 years.

In addition to the risks to our economy, we don't need to take this risk to be energy secure anymore. The United States is now a net exporter of oil, meaning that current supply exceeds domestic demand.

Finally, the people of Florida are clearly opposed to offshore drilling. The November 2018 ballot contained a ban on offshore drilling, Amendment 9, which won with more than 68 percent voting in favor of the measure. This widespread support should indicate to the entire Florida delegation, and members of both parties and both chambers, that voters overwhelmingly support making the current moratorium permanent.

Thanks to the support of Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and Natural Resources Chairman Grijalva, the House of Representatives has done its job to protect Florida. Our entire Florida delegation, except for Rep. Yoho, has united to vote for H.R. 205 because we all understand the critical need for Florida. Hopefully, now Florida Senators Rubio and Scott can lead this legislation to a successful Senate vote and President Trump will fulfill his commitment to protect Florida's environment and make HR 205 law. Twenty-one million Floridians are depending on them. We must act now to safeguard the Eastern Gulf and our way of life in Florida.

Francis Rooney is the U.S. Representative for Florida's 19th congressional district. He serves as the Ranking Member for the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security and Trade Subcommittee on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He previously served as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush from 2005 to 2008.

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