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Rep. Rutherford Files Bill To Ban Florida Offshore Drilling

Congressman John Rutherford
Congressman John Rutherford

Northeast Florida Congressman John Rutherford has filed a bill to prevent drilling in federal waters off Florida over the next decade.

“We’re just trying to protect our beaches and our economy, because that’s really why people come to Florida: our pristine beaches,” the Jacksonville Republican said. “And quite frankly, right now the country doesn’t need any oil that might be out there.”

The Bolstering Economies, Anglers, Coastal Habitats, Ecosystems and Security (BEACHES) in Florida Act ( H.R. 3585) would create a moratorium on oil and gas leasing and exploration in federal waters in the South Atlantic Ocean and the Straits of Florida and extend the existing moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico until 2029. Rep. Al Lawson, a Jacksonville Democrat, is one of the bipartisan legislation’s original 17 cosponsors.

“I don’t like to try to set anything permanent, because I don’t know what the conditions might be in 10 years,” Rutherford said, explaining the 2029 sunset. “I think these things should be reviewed from time to time.”

In November nearly 70% of Florida voters supported state constitutional amendment 9, which prohibits offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters extending three to nine miles from the state’s coastline. The amendment, which included a constitutional process known as bundling, also prohibits vaping in enclosed indoor workplaces. 

Rutherford said the BEACHES in Florida Act would protect the federal waters outside the jurisdiction of the new state amendment.

Related: Rep. Rutherford, Other Officials To Join Offshore Drilling Protest At Jacksonville Beach

Earlier this year, in response to the Trump administration authorizing seismic testing for oil and gas off Florida’s Atlantic coast, the Jacksonville Republican also teamed up with Democratic New Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew to introduce a house bill that would place a 10-year moratorium on the practice along the country’s east coast, from Maine to Florida.

“The representatives in Florida have listened to the people. They don’t want offshore drilling. They don’t want offshore testing,” he said. “We’ve come together as a delegation in a very strong way, I think, to make that position known to the Secretary of Interior and to get legislation in place that will protect the will of the people.”

Related: Northeast Fla. Congressmen Rutherford, Lawson Join American Flood Coalition

Rutherford said he’s supporting a similar bill put forward by Democratic South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shulz. Her bill, H.R. 3055, would also ban drilling in federal waters off the coast of Florida, but unlike Rutherford’s, Shulz’s ban would be permanent.

The two are supporting each other’s proposals because, according to Rutherford, they want to make sure there’s no drilling in Florida’s waters.

“If a bill fails because somebody says, ‘Well I don’t want to vote for a bill that makes it permanent.’ Then we need a bill that’s running that… only says 10 years. Then you may have somebody who says, ‘No, I think we should make it permanent.’ So we have a bill that makes it permanent,” Rutherford explained. “We’re just trying to cover all the bases.”

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

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