From News Service of Florida: Florida Energy Associates, the group spearheading the effort to open the state’s Gulf waters to offshore oil-drilling, is scaling back its once dominant presence at the state Capitol. As many as two-thirds of the 30 lobbyists enlisted by the organization, which spent $234,000 on its legislative push last spring, will be shed in coming weeks, David Rancourt, Florida Energy Associates’ lead lobbyist, said Thursday. “It’s very hard to keep an army in the field without a war to fight,” Rancourt told the News Service of Florida. “This should not in any way be taken that we are retreating. But it’s clear that the issue is in something of a quiet period right now.”
Indeed, the sizzle behind the oil-drilling proposal has been largely silenced by Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, who in November ordered the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee to undertake a wide-ranging study of the effects of offshore drilling. Atwater, a Republican candidate for chief financial officer, made it clear that he was in no hurry to follow the House’s lead in lifting the state’s two-decade-long ban on drilling within state waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, Atwater said the analysis will be driven by a “dispassionate review, not timetables or schedules.”
Environmentalists who oppose the proposal, which last year could have led to drilling as close as three-miles offshore, hailed Florida Energy Associates’ downsizing as a sign that supporters were losing their will to continue an increasingly uphill battle. “It’s the first smart, strategic decision they’ve made since targeting Florida,” said Jerry Karnas, who directs a Florida climate project for the Environmental Defense Fund. “But these guys do have the ability to fly under the radar screen, so maybe taking away some of the focus on them is part of the strategy for winning approval.”
Eric Draper of Audubon of Florida said supporters’ claims that drilling could bring billions of dollars swiftly into the Florida economy drew more skepticism from lawmakers worried about the state’s $50 billion tourist industry. “Florida Energy Associates knows they’ve got a real tough sell,” Draper said. Rancourt said Florida Energy Associates’ decision to reduce its lobbying presence is not based on concerns the issue will fail to surface during the spring session. House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, sponsored the measure last year and swept it through the House on a 70-43 vote.