The Bush administration in 2001 backed off a proposal to allow drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in an area that came as close as 16 miles to beaches in Florida’s panhandle. What the Bush administration approved instead keeps drilling at least 100 miles from the coast. But an ad airing in Florida by the League of Conservation Voters gives a different — and misleading — impression.
This misleading ad may be a payback for an attack last month by Bush’s brother Jeb, who falsely claimed Kerry favors drilling off the Florida coast.
Bush’s record on Florida offshore drilling is summed up in this Interior Department map:
Lease Sale 181 Area
Source: Minerals Management Service, US Dept. of Interior
The area outlined in pink is Lease Sale 181 Area — a tract of 5.9 million acres first proposed for oil and gas leases in 1997 during the Clinton administration with the actual leasing to begin in December 2001. When Bush took office his Interior Secretary Gail Norton expressed support for going ahead with the sale. But because the extreme northeastern tip of the area reaches to within 16 miles off the coast at a point west of Pensacola, the President’s brother Jeb, who was up for re-election as Florida’s governor, protested. So the administration retreated, and approved only the smaller area shaded in green. It comes no closer than 100 miles from the Florida coast and, at less than 1.5 million acres, is about one-quarter the size of the original tract.
At the time, Bush’s decision was hailed by some environmental groups:
Athan Manuel, spokesman for U.S. PIRG said of President Bush, “He turned his back on the oil industry and listened to the people of Florida.”
Enid Sisskin of Gulf Coast Environmental Defense said she was “thrilled to see that the blocks off Florida were cut out” and that “this was the best we’re going to get. It seems to be a really big victory because it avoids setting the precedent of selling leases off of Florida.” According to Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation the compromise was “great. It seems to address the vast majority of Florida’s concerns about this issue.”
League of Conservation Voters Ad: “Position”
Bush [in April 23, 2004 speech]: As you can see, there is no ambiguity in my position on drilling off the coast of Florida.
Announcer: There sure isn’t. President Bush opened up Florida’s coast to offshore drilling, and he supported an energy bill that could lead to even more.
Well, what would you expect from a Texas oil man? Just one accident can destroy a coastline.
President Bush [in April 23, 2004 speech]: So we’ve got to put programs in place that help Mother Nature.
Announcer : Mr. President, your oil drilling of Florida’s coast isn’t one of them.
But that was then, and now is now — an election year. The League of Conservation Voters began running this attack ad May 18, and said it would run through May 25 on CNN and broadcast stations in Orlando, Tampa and Washington, DC. The ad misleads by saying Bush opened up Florida’s coast to offshore drilling, without mentioning that the closest drilling would be 100 miles from any point on the Florida beach, 128 miles from Panama City’s beaches, and nearly 300 miles from Tampa. And 100 miles is a lot farther away than any normal person would assume upon hearing the words “opened up Florida’s coast.”
What About Future Drilling?
The ad also says Bush “supported an energy bill that could lead to even more” offshore drilling. Here they may have a point, but not a strong one. Bush’s energy policy generally favors more offshore drilling. A “Statement of Administration Policy” sent to Congress last year on H.R. 6, the energy bill, states that the “Administration supports provisions. . .to increase production of traditional resources on the Outer Continental Shelf . . .”
Also, the energy bill Bush originally proposed contained a provision that would have called for the Department of the Interior to inventory oil and gas resources in the Outer Continental Shelf including areas in the Gulf. That inventory provision was stripped from the bill in Congress after representatives of Florida and some other coastal states objected, saying it would eventually lead to pressure for more drilling. The bill — currently stalled in the Senate — still contains a provision giving the Interior Department authority to grant easements, or rights-of-way, for offshore activities that support exploration, development, production, transportation or storage of oil and gas.
However, those provisions apply to the entire Outer Continental Shelf, only portions of which are adjacent to Florida. So as the ad says, the provisions “could” lead to more drilling off Florida — or not. Bush says it won’t.
(Note: The League of Conservation Voters defends their ad. In a letter to FactCheck.org May 27, LCV’s Senior Vice President for Political Affairs said even wells drilled 100 miles away from Florida’s coast are still too close, and that “almost any well drilled in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico poses a threat to Florida’s beaches.” The full text of the letter can be read here.)
Jeb Bush’s Distortion of Kerry’s Position
Footnote: The issue of Florida offshore drilling seems to invite distortions. Last month Jeb Bush attacked Kerry for supposedly supporting drilling off Florida’s beaches. He spoke of “Kerry’s insistence on offshore drilling in Florida,” and said, “There is probably 10 percent of the people of this state that would support a candidate for higher office that believes what John Kerry believes.”
Bush was referring to a story in the Independent Florida Alligator, a college newspaper. The story reported on a Kerry speech in Tampa and claimed that Kerry “would be in favor of drilling off the coast of Florida.” What Kerry actually said was: “The largest unexplored oil field in the world is actually the deep water oil out in the Gulf. Now, there is a capacity to protect what we have today, the protections for the coast of Florida, and still be able to drill in those locations where they’re already permitting, already had the Environmental Impact Study, they already have the leases . . .” (Emphasis added). The Alligator ran a correction stating “Sen. John Kerry does not support drilling for oil off the coast of Florida. Because of ambiguous language at a speech Kerry gave in Tampa on Tuesday, the Alligator reported otherwise.”
Watch League of Conservation Voters Ad: “Position”
David Royse, “Environmentalists criticize President on oil drilling,” The Associated Press 17 May 2004.
George W. Bush, “President Discusses Earth Day, National Volunteer Week in FL,” Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Naples, FL 23 April 2004.
“Twilight for Earth Day?” The Ledger (Lakehead, Florida) 22 April 2001: A2.
Bill Adair, “It’s Bush vs. Bush in gulf drilling battle,” St. Petersburg Times 19 April 2001: A1.
“Secretary Norton Announces Area of Proposed 181 Lease Sale on Outer Continental Shelf,” News Release, U.S. Department of the Interior 2 July 2001.
“Fact Sheet Lease Sale 181,” U.S. Department of the Interior 2 July 2001.
Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service “Outer Continental Shelf, Eastern Gulf of Mexico, Oil and Gas Lease Sale 181,” Federal Register, Vol. 64, No. 15, 25 Jan. 1999.
Cory Reiss, “Area for drilling in gulf reduced; political opponents and environmentalists were split between accolades and anger; ‘A compromise'” The Ledger (Lakehead, Florida) 3 July 2001.
Bill Adair and Craig Pittman, “Compromise limits new drilling off Fla.,” St. Petersburg Times 3 July 2001: 1A.
Bill Kaczor, “House approves Florida anti-drilling amendment,” The Associated Press 11 April 2003.
“Earth Day Political Battles,” The Hotline (National Journal) 26 April 2004.
Adam C. Smith and Joni James, “Both Bushes jump on Kerry’s drilling stance,” St. Petersburg Times 22 April 2004: 1A
Executive Office of the President, “Statement of Administration Policy: H.R. 6 – Energy Policy Act of 2003,” 10 April 2003.