Surfrider Foundation joined with 16 other environmental organizations in July 2009 in sending the following letter to US Senators. Congress will again be considering risking the beaches and coastal economy of Florida by allowing new oil drilling close to shore when they return from their summer recess.

On behalf of the millions of members of our organizations, we are writing to oppose any legislation that would allow new oil and gas drilling off our coasts. Specifically, we ask that you remove language in American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 reversing the bipartisan agreement reached in the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA). Our energy policy should promote responsible renewable energy, be based on sound science, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, Florida’s coasts are being sold to the highest bidder—the oil industry.

The risks to Florida’s economy are great. Florida is dependent on its $65 billion-a-year tourism industry, which relies in large part on clean coastal waters and beaches for activities like swimming, boating and fishing. The risk of oil pollution — from the drilling process, tankers and leaking or broken pipelines — contaminating Gulf waters and washing ashore is real. The prevalence of hurricanes in this part of the country increases the threat of catastrophic spills. A spill in the eastern Gulf could potentially be carried by currents to coastal beaches, and to the Florida Keys.

Additionally the Eastern Gulf of Mexico houses a remarkable diversity of marine and coastal ecosystems, including coral reefs, mangroves, bays, estuaries, and tidal flats. The Gulf of Mexico is home to an abundance of marine wildlife, both in the shallow and the deep sea: from the surface where bluefin tuna spawn to the coral gardens which serve as nurseries for a variety of fish and other marine life. Increased oil development would threaten many of the habitats and structures that make the eastern Gulf so diverse.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee turned its back on Florida by agreeing to language that would allow drilling within 10 miles of Pensacola, and shrink the current 125-mile-wide buffer elsewhere along Florida’s West Coast to 45 miles. In doing so, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is undoing an agreement made in 2006 to protect Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The 2006 GOMESA granted long-term protections until 2022 for Florida’s Gulf Coast, in exchange for 8.2 million acres of drilling rights in previously-protected areas. In the absence of a moratorium on offshore drilling or other protections the Senate is setting a dangerous precedent with respect to the management of our oceans and marine ecosystems by going back on its agreement.

The Senate should create energy policy that increases investments in responsible renewable energy development consistent with the protection of wildlife and habitat, and that promotes energy efficiency and conservation, while creating jobs in new clean energy sectors, without putting our oceans and coasts and the economies they support at risk.

In the face of climate change, the continued extraction and burning of offshore oil and gas reserves makes even less sense. Global warming and ocean acidification threaten our ocean ecosystems, including low lying coastal areas, and coral reefs.

We urge you to uphold the commitment made by the Senate in 2006 to protect the treasured resources of Florida’s Gulf Coast, and to continue your efforts to move our nation away from the old and outdated energy policies of the past and toward a bright future of carbon-free energy, that maintains the health of our oceans and planet.