Nelson presses Gates on whether drilling plan would harm military training

But Obama administration plans call for reducing the size of the no-drilling buffer to 125 miles from Florida’s entire Gulf coast, which would require congressional approval.

Several Florida lawmakers have criticized the White House drilling proposal. Nelson, however, had a more measured response when President Obama rolled out the plan late last month.

“I’ve talked many times to [ Interior Department ] Secretary [ Ken ] Salazar and told him if they drilled too close to Florida’s beaches they’d be risking the state’s economy and the environment.  I believe this plan shows they heeded that concern. And it ought to derail the scheme in the Florida Legislature to drill three miles offshore.  Now I need to hear from Defense Secretary Robert Gates,” Nelson said March 31.

“And I want him to look me in the eye and assure me that this plan will not compromise national security by interfering with the unfettered space we have for training and testing our most sophisticated military weapons systems,” he added.

The White House plan would keep drilling further from Florida’s Gulf shores than legislation the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved last June. That bill would shrink the no-drilling buffer to 45 miles, and allow development even closer in a gas-rich region called the Destin Dome.