A senator who has been a key voice in prior-year debates on energy legislation told the White House today not to count on his vote for new climate and energy bills, if they contain provisions that would permit exploration and drilling for oil and gas off Florida.
With the White House seeking every possible vote, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson held to long-standing opposition to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coastal waters off the tourism-reliant Sunshine State.
Nelson was among 23 senators summoned to meet with President Barack Obama Tuesday morning to discuss how best to address energy and climate legislation this summer. Senate Democrats met two weeks ago, but failed to agree on a bill lawmakers could consider in July.
Nelson has been outspoken against the president's recently announced plans for expanded drilling in the eastern Gulf, where it is currently banned under a 2006 federal law. Nelson, joined by former Republican Sen. Mel Martinez, helped write that law to keeps rigs 125 miles from Florida's Gulf coast and as far away as 235 miles at some points.
"No drilling off Florida, period," is what Nelson told the White House and fellow lawmakers today.
Tuesday's meeting was attended senators considered key to passage of energy and climate change legislation this year. The president and Senate leadership are trying to figure out a way to garner a total of 60 votes that would be needed for passage of a plan.
Nelson has been a figure in previous congressional debates over whether to give oil companies more access to federal offshore lands. He successfully filibustered a Senate attempt in 2005 to greatly expand offshore drilling, and then the next year co-authored the law with Martinez that provides Florida with its current no-drill zone.
For years, Nelson has argued that offshore drilling was too risky and said oil companies held too much sway in Washington. Two years ago, he filed legislation aimed at ending cozy ties between drilling regulators and the oil industry. It was stalled until the recent Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf.