CONGRESSMAN MILLER'S COMMENTS TO THE MINERALS MANAGEMENT SERVICE
Congressman Jeff Miller released the following comments to the Minerals Management Service in response to their proposed 5 year plan:
I write to you regarding the Minerals Management Service's (MMS) proposed five-year Outer Continental Shelf leasing plan. It is my hope that MMS will consider my comments, and all of the comments submitted by my fellow Floridians, when they consider the prospect of drilling off the coast of Florida waters in the very near future.
Let me say from the onset that I recognize the need for a national energy policy and I look forward to working with the administration and leaders in Congress on a policy that meets our future needs while remaining sensitive to the concerns of Florida.
However, compromising the mission of the U.S. military in the Gulf of Mexico with oil and gas exploration is not and never will be a viable option.
Since 2001, I have maintained that drilling east of 86'41", commonly referred to as the "military mission line", would interfere with the Air Force's Testing and Evaluation missions conducted above the Gulf of Mexico from Key West to the Western Panhandle of Florida. Now, with the closing of the ranges in Vieques, Puerto Rico, the Gulf of Mexico is also home to a number of training missions for our military, specifically those conducted by the U.S. Navy. If petroleum companies were allowed to begin to explore and inventory the area, serious encroachments on our military training exercises and testing and evaluation missions would be created.
Last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld reiterated that message indicating that drilling east of the military missions line would be "incompatible with military activities" in the Gulf of Mexico.
While I am pleased that the current MMS five-year proposal calls for no new drilling east of the military mission line, I am concerned of the steady march to the east that MMS has taken in the last decade. This plan proposes lease sales right up to 86'41". My question is how far east will the march continue?
One of the biggest problems I have with this five-year plan, and the events leading up to its unveiling, is that MMS has overtly and intentionally altered the Eastern Gulf of Mexico Planning Area boundary in order to be able to say, "There are no lease sales proposed in the Eastern Planning Area." However, the proposal opens a large portion of Lease Sale 181 for leasing which was, until recently, entirely within the Eastern Planning Area. MMS did this without input from the State of Florida or its residents.
MMS has told my office repeatedly that the boundary change was to "better define what an Affected State' is." One would think that proposing drilling 100 miles dues south of Pensacola would make Florida an "Affected State." Well not according to the new MMS boundaries! MMS has conveniently divided up those waters south of my district, and made Alabama, Mississippi, and even Louisiana the "Affected States." This is a political shell game being played by MMS and the Department of Interior, and serves no purpose except to exclude Floridians from the right to comment about what happens directly off their pristine shores.
Most Floridians oppose offshore oil drilling because of the threat it presents to the state's greatest natural and economic resource: our coastal environment. Florida's beaches, fisheries, and wildlife draw millions of tourists each year from around the globe, supporting our state's largest industry Tourism is estimated to have a multi-billion impact on the economy of the five western counties of the Florida Panhandle alone.
Many of the Members of the Florida Congressional Delegation have been working in good faith to allow for drilling in portions of Lease Area 181 in exchange for permanent protections in other areas of the Eastern Planning Area. This MMS proposal would harm the balance of this delicate negotiation and potentially shut it down completely. Once these leases are sold, it is difficult and expensive to buy them back.
I request that the new five year plan respect the direction the State of Florida, and most of its Congressional Delegation, wish to take by returning to the previous maps of the Western, Central and Eastern planning areas, and excluding the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the South Atlantic, and the Straits of Florida from the 2007-2012 five-year plan.
I know that you will experience pressure to reverse the status quo and include these environmentally-sensitive and mission-critical areas in the five-year plan. I am vigorously opposed to this action, and I trust that the Minerals Management Service will make the right decision to protect Florida's fragile coastal ecosystem that is so vital to our economic health. Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you very soon.