Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole

Rubio looks to defense bill to block offshore drilling, but some fear it creates a loophole
© Greg Nash

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Lincoln Project expands GOP target list, winning Trump ire China sanctioning Rubio, Cruz in retaliatory move over Hong Kong MORE (R-Fla.) is turning to a must-pass defense bill as a way to block offshore drilling off the coast of Florida, but fellow drilling opponents worry his amendment opens the door for the Department of Defense to speed extraction in the sensitive area. 

Rubio is making multiple efforts to block any drilling off the state’s Gulf Coast, home to multiple military installments that use the waters for training. 

One amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would extend the current moratorium on offshore drilling in the area through 2032. The other would require the secretary of Defense to sign off on all future lease sales in Florida’s Gulf to assure the drilling wouldn't interfere with military operations.

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Though the military has long resisted drilling in the area, some worry the amendment would give a presidential appointee the power to greenlight drilling with little oversight from Congress.

“This signs over control of when and where drilling can happen to the secretary of Defense. The secretary of Defense works for the president, and this president has made his case very clear that he wants offshore drilling,” Diane Hoskins, a campaign director with Oceana, told The Hill.

“It’s essentially a huge loophole for drilling. So it’s way too risky, it's a bad approach [and] it does not extend the moratorium," she added. "The bottom line is Florida doesn't want drilling to get an inch closer and any deal that risks that is a raw deal for Florida.”

Rubio’s amendments come amid concern that the Trump administration may pursue drilling off the coast of Florida shortly after the November election.

While the Trump administration said in 2018 it would exclude Florida from its offshore drilling plan, a new version has not yet been released. Meanwhile, numerous sources told Politico the administration was eyeing drilling in Florida if Trump is elected to a second term.

The Department of the Interior has denied the report.

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The amendments from Rubio mark the latest of many attempts to block drilling off Florida’s coast. A spokesman for the senator said his amendment would not create a loophole but is instead a multipronged effort to limit drilling. 

“Our No. 1 goal is to extend the moratorium. But if we aren't able to do that for whatever reason, or let's say that the moratorium did lapse for some reason, then this would be a failsafe,” the spokesman told The Hill. 

“There's no way for the military, for the secretary of Defense, to certify that offshore drilling in that area would not impact national security,” he added, citing a lengthy history of military documentation citing the need to restrict drilling in the area. “If they're offshore drilling in the area, that would directly impact the ability for them to carry out the functions that they use for military readiness and testing.”

Rubio’s measures have yet to come to a vote, and it’s not clear whether the Senate will consider amendments to the NDAA or which ones might get included in a manager’s package. 

Florida lawmakers have made numerous attempts to block drilling near the state, arguing any potential spills could devastate an economy that relies on tourism and fishing.

Last year, the House passed numerous bills that would ban offshore drilling across the U.S., including a measure backed by nearly every member of the Florida delegation that would permanently bar drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The legislation, however, was never taken up by the Senate.