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Flordia Drilling bill was designed to deceive

By Eric Ernst, Sarasota Herald-Tribune Columnist

He wasn't talking about the majesty of sunsets or the diversity of plants and animals or the web of life whose complexities we cannot fathom.

Nope. When state Rep. Charles Van Sant, R-Keystone Heights, said, "We should humble ourselves and thank God for blessing us with His abundance ..." he was talking about drilling for oil as close as three miles off the shores of Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties.

Unfortunately, the wheeling and dealing behind Van Sant's bill had a less-than-heavenly quality to it.

At the first House committee hearings, while conservationists scrambled to catch up with a fast-moving target, Florida business groups and two Texas oil companies came prepared with full-scale presentations.

The strategy was designed not to foster honest, open dialogue about what's best for the state, but to whisk through legislation that would likely disintegrate under objective scrutiny.

Whenever a bill appears out of nowhere at the close of a legislative session, you can be pretty sure someone's ready to make a lot of money at the public's expense.

In this case, the likely beneficiaries would be out-of-state oil speculators.

The losers would be anyone whose livelihood or general sense of well-being relies on the natural beauty and bounty of the Gulf of Mexico. Whether we think about it or not, that's most of us. The value of our homes and businesses is directly related to the attraction of Florida's natural resources to people from other areas. Mess with the aesthetics or the diversity of species, and we're just another Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

A second clue that something stinks arises when no one will take credit for the genesis of a bill. That happened here. Who really came up with the idea, and why? No one will admit to it.

As Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, puts it, "There's somebody's fingerprints on this, and they're trying to wipe the fingerprints off."

Backers of offshore drilling claimed to have a poll showing public support. If true, it would be interesting to see how the poll's questions were asked. If a poll asked, "Would you be willing to risk an oil spill or related environmental catastrophe in your own back yard for the sake of lowering the price of gasoline by 3 cents a gallon 10 years from now?" the public's response might differ.

The Senate leadership wisely killed the oil-drilling bill, but rest assured it will be back. Stay tuned to the ads in the meantime.

Claims of public support to the contrary, we still need to be softened up.