Commenting on the same day that the Pinellas County Commission was poised to vote on a fracking ban, House District 69 Democratic candidate Jennifer Webb announced that she not only supports such a ban, but took the opportunity to take a swipe at her GOP opponent, incumbent Kathleen Peters.
Noting that there were bills presented in the Legislature banning fracking that never received a hearing, Webb said that, “Rep. Peters has had ample opportunity to take the lead on protecting our beaches and tourism from fracking, but once again put the needs of lobbyists and special interests ahead of Pinellas families and small businesses. ”
Webb added that “Our environment and our state’s main industry, tourism, are inextricably bound, to not recognize this fact is troubling.”
Peters was nearly incredulous to hear Webb’s statement read to her. She says she proudly supported the fracking bill sponsored by Naples Senate Republican Garett Richter that failed to get a hearing. That legislation would have directed the Department of Environmental Protection to set up a regulatory scheme for inshore oil and gas drilling, provide $1 million to study the impact of fracking on Florida’s aquifer and limestone bedrock, and pre-empt local government ordinances banning the practice.
“The only bill that was presented to any legislator to stop fracking in Florida was that bill,” Peters said Tuesday.”So in my opinion, anyone who opposes that bill, then supports what happened and now anyone can come into this state and do fracking. Anyone who voted no was absolutely irresponsible, because we do not have a moratorium on it.”
Peters also strongly disputed Webb’s comment that she put the needs of lobbyists ahead of her constituents, calling such a change, “ludicrous.”
“She can make all the claims that she wants, but my track record shows that it’s not the lobbyists that drives my legislative language,” Peters said, citing her sponsorship of a 2015 bill that, among other things, requires the Public Service Commission to conduct additional meetings related to electric utilities; requires PSC to post information on website; requires persons who lobby PSC Nominating Council to register as lobbyist; requires PSC commissioners to take ethics training courses, granted additional powers to Public Counsel; revises provisions regarding utility billing practices and clarified the use of funds received to encourage development of certain energy systems.
Webb says there have been enough studies, and says it’s time to shut down the possibility of such technology ever being employed in Florida.
“Fracking has been extensively studied and the risks of fracking are well documented,” Webb said. “As such, the motivation for that study must have been political. It is outrageous that the Florida Legislature would spend even a dime of taxpayers’ money to study fracking in Florida. The voters didn’t want fracking, and the legislature could have banned it outright in 2016. I’m not willing to risk polluting our drinking water, beaches, and waterways for antiquated energy solutions that benefit dirty oil and gas companies.”
Webb is a USF administrator running for office for the first time. Peters was initially elected to the Pinellas County seat in 2012, and was re-elected in 2014.
If the Pinellas County Commission approves a fracking ban on Tuesday, there would be a public hearing on the matter to take place on June 7.