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Bill Nelson on off-shore oil drilling: ‘Not while I’m in office’

As President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to allow off-shore oil drilling practically everywhere, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson appears to have dug in for his best Clint Eastwood “Make my day” impersonation.

“The administration is planning to drill off the coast of Florida,” Nelson told reporters in Orlando Friday. “I can tell you as long as I’m in office, that’s not going to happen.”

When Zinke announced Thursday that the U.S. Department of Interior intends to start making oil drilling leases available off the coast of Florida and elsewhere when current moratoriums expire, he may have given Nelson a gift in a re-election campaign plank.

Though Gov. Rick Scott, Nelson’s likely opponent in this year’s election, also has come out in opposition to drilling off Florida’s coast – as have almost all of Florida’s congressional delegation including Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s biggest supporters – Nelson on Friday staked out the opposition ground as his. And he made it clear that as far as he’s concerned as a candidate, opposition to off-shore drilling in Florida always has been his issue, and always will be.

On Friday Nelson reminded reporters that his opposition to off-shore drilling around Florida dates to 1985 when he was in Congress and opposed a plan by then-Interior Secretary James Watt, and continued through the present, as he pushed against Trump’s and Zinke’s proposal last year to allow seismic testing in off-shore areas.

“There are no oil rigs off Florida’s coast, and as long as I’m around there will not be,” Nelson said. “We’ve been at this battle now three decades, ever since I was congressman.”

Nelson called the current laws requiring moratoriums on drilling off Florida’s coasts “my,” citing his efforts in 2006, jointly with then-U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, to get bans into federal law stretching to 2022 and 2023.

On Friday he said he did not know what Scott thought about off-shore drilling, but said the governor had not consulted with him about federal laws involving the matter, not even last year when Trump and Zinke proposed the seismic testing. “The short answer is no,” Nelson said when asked if he and the governor had discussed off-shore drilling.

“We’ve been keeping them off Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center, because you can’t have oil rigs out there where you’re dropping the first stages of your rockets. And it’s the same thing out there in the Gulf of Mexico off of Florida. That’s why that is prohibited in law, until the year 2022,” Nelson said. “It’s not only protecting Florida’s economy, our tourism economy, which got completely shafted when the Deepwater Horizon spill occurred, because they saw oil on Pensacola Beach, and for a whole year the tourists didn’t come, but also it’s a national security issue, because that’s the largest testing and training range for the U.S. Military, the Gulf of Mexico off Florida,” he continued.

“So we’re simply not going to let this plan for drilling off Florida occur,” he concluded.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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