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Miami Herald Says: Keep Florida safe from offshore drilling

OUR OPINION: Protect Florida's beaches and fisheries from pollution threats

When the Florida House of Representatives this spring passed a bill to allow oil and gas drilling three miles off Florida's coast, Senate President Jeff Atwater called the measure ``dead in the water,'' and it went nowhere. This left intact no-drilling zones 125 miles off the Panhandle and 235 miles west of Tampa.

But drilling fever is spreading in Florida -- to the state's peril.

Mr. Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican, has one more year heading the Senate. Meantime, his designated successor, Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, plans to co-author a new drilling bill with incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.

The new measure would allow the Florida Cabinet to issue oil leases five to six miles offshore. The motivation, the lawmakers say, is money. A Daytona Beach group of oil companies commissioned a study by Orlando economist Hank Fishkind that suggests the state could reap $2.4 billion a year from drilling. Also, two proposals in Congress would encourage cash-strapped states to increase offshore drilling by giving them a cut of the profits -- 37 percent in one bill.

Both measures are dangerously short-sighted. While drilling techniques have improved when it comes to environmental risks, pollution threats remain from transporting oil. Pipelines can leak; tankers can founder on reefs. It isn't just Florida's beaches at risk but also its fisheries.

Two rays of hope for protecting Florida are our gubernatorial candidates -- Republican Attorney General Bill McCollum and Democrat Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. Both oppose drilling any closer.

Florida's tourism and fisheries industries deserve the utmost protection.