In a stunning reversal of fortune, the chances of oil and gas drilling as near as five miles off Florida's coast have gone from reasonably possible to highly improbable -- all thanks to the massive oil spill from the still uncapped well in the Gulf of Mexico.
The environmental nightmare has huge political implications in Florida with its economy heavily reliant on beach-driven tourism. It has handed candidates running for state and national office here a political bonanza as many line up to oppose drilling, which was, until recently, strongly favored by incoming state House Republican leaders.
Crist makes right call
Gov. Charlie Crist took this political windfall the ultimate step Tuesday with his correct call for a special session to place a constitutional amendment banning all drilling 10 miles off Florida's coast on the November ballot.
The amendment wasn't the governor's idea, however. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who is running for governor, state Sen. Dan Gelber, seeking the attorney general's post, and other Democratic lawmakers first called for one last week. Senate President Jeff Atwater, a Republican candidate for chief financial officer, supports the special session.
But as freighted with political opportunism as the special session may be, it's the right approach to settling this controversial issue. The Legislature should send a drilling-ban amendment to voters.
Expanding drilling off Florida's coast has been on a roller-coaster ride for at least a decade. With the oil and gas industry making inroads in Congress and an oil-friendly Bush White House, efforts to open the eastern Gulf to more drilling intensified. Anti-drilling stalwarts like Sen. Bill Nelson fought back, resulting in compromises on both sides.
Support is waning
With President Obama's call last month for opening both the Eastern Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean to new drilling 125 miles from Florida, the seesawing drilling battle seemed destined to continue. But with the deep well off Louisiana gushing 210,000 gallons a day and Florida beaches at risk, Floridians' support for more drilling is waning. They should be allowed to decide on a proposed ban.
Gov. Crist also rightly proposes new tax incentives to encourage utilities to promote renewable energy sources. These should be approved. It isn't enough just to say No to drilling while still relying heavily on oil and gas. The state has to simultaneously develop sustainable energy sources that reduce our need for oil and gas drilling altogether.