In an about-face, Gov. Jeb Bush (search) is backing a plan allowing limited exploration for oil drilling off Florida's coastline.
"My position is if we can get an assurance to extend a 100- to 125-mile swath from Pensacola all the way to Jacksonville to protect our beaches, then we ought to try and get it. We don't have that today," Bush said.
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While the current moratorium on offshore drilling (search) is set to expire in 2007, there is no law banning drilling entirely. Opponents of the governor's plan on both sides of the aisle would rather see an outright ban on drilling for the entire eastern Gulf of Mexico.
"It's not worth [how] it would hurt us and our military preparedness and [how] it would hurt Florida's economy by messing up our pristine beaches," said Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat.
But drilling has been permitted for decades off other parts of America's coastline, such as Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Alaska and portions of Southern California. One oil industry expert says that after two seasons of hard-hitting hurricanes, it's time Florida contributed its share.
"We need more natural gas supply and we need them from diverse areas of our country," said Darrel Henry of the American Gas Association (search).
According to proponents, there is enough untapped, natural gas in the Gulf to power as many as 60 million American homes for the next hundred years. But opponents say the risk of oil spills and pollution could damage Florida's tourism-driven coastal economy.
"If people don't come to Florida, if they don't come to the beaches, if they don't spend their money here, we're in a lot of trouble as a state," warned Joe Murphy, of the Sierra Club (search) in Florida.
Congress is expected to revisit this debate when it returns this week. With winter around the corner, the only thing both sides agree on is that already-high fuel prices will go up even higher.