Fla. Ag candidate says 'No, Baby, No' to drilling

AP News
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Posted: Nov 24, 2009 10:25 AM

A Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner has a response to Republican calls to "Drill, Baby, Drill."

Scott Maddox says "No, Baby, No."

The former Tallahassee mayor and ex-Florida Democratic Party chairman held a news conference Monday to declare his opposition to drilling for oil and natural gas off the state's beaches in federal and state waters.

Maddox said proposed state legislation that would open Florida waters to drilling between three and 10 miles offshore was a "bad idea."

It would interfere with military training and weapons testing in and over the Gulf of Mexico and threaten the state's beaches and the tourism industry they support with oil spills and other drilling-related pollution, Maddox said.

"It's like we've been asked to sell our favorite daughter and the Legislature has gone straight to 'What's the price and is it enough?'" he said. "Where's the moral outrage?"

At least one of his three opponents for the Democratic nomination, former Suwannee County Commissioner Randy Hatch of Branford, also opposes offshore drilling. The campaigns of former state Rep. Rick Minton Jr of Fort Pierce and Broward County Soil and Water Conservation Commissioner Thad Hamilton did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Both Republican candidates, U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam of Bartow and state Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis, support letting the governor and Cabinet, which includes the agriculture commissioner, decide where to allow drilling.

That was part of a bill the House passed during the last legislative session, but it died when the Senate declined to take it up. Similar legislation is expected to be introduced for the 2010 session that begins in March.

Putnam said in a telephone interview that he supports the legislation but hasn't yet decided whether he'd allow drilling as a Cabinet member. Nearshore drilling in Florida waters would have to meet higher standards for environmental protection than in federal waters to get his support, he said. Putnam also said he'd want assurance that drilling would not affect military activities.

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In 2006, Putnam voted in Congress against continuing a moratorium on drilling in federal waters off Florida.

Baker said he supports drilling as long as it can be done safely because it would provide the state with much-needed revenue and reduce dependance on foreign oil.

Business and petroleum interests pushing to open state waters to drilling hired Orlando economist Hank Fishkind to do a study that predicts the state could reap $2.3 billion a year from drilling in state waters.

Maddox and other opponents say that figure is highly exaggerated, citing much lower revenue taking in by other Gulf Coast states.