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Light tuna in oil


Describing his position as evolving, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he now supports exploratory drilling for oil and gas off Florida’s coast because “Floridians are suffering…”

The National Petroleum Council estimates the eastern Gulf might hold 36.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 5.2 billion barrels of oil. Others doubt those numbers but say there is no way to know without further exploration.

Environmentalists warn, however, that Florida’s multibillion-dollar tourism industry, its fisheries industries and its soaring coastal real estate market are as much at risk as the environment if drilling anywhere in the Eastern Gulf is allowed.

Federal environmental regulators acknowledge that drilling discharges harmful drilling fluids and cuttings, disturbs delicate marine life and poses a threat to endangered sea turtles.

For those and other reasons, Florida politicians from both parties have considered the endorsement of oil drilling as a ”third rail” of political issues to be avoided. They have worked to keep the drilling ban in force along Florida shores for more than 25 years.

Let’s be clear about something. Everything in Florida comes down to tourism. Our entire system of government depends on sales tax receipts and a few other taxes paid by tourists (on hotels, etc). There’s no income tax. Taxes on wealth, like estate and intangibles taxes, have been slashed by our Republican legislature. There are a few miscellaneous fees and taxes, but we live and die by the sales tax. Guess what happens to those sales taxes our tourist friends pay when oil rigs pop up on the horizon, and trace amounts of the stuff they bring up start coating our beaches?

You may argue that it’s in the nation’s best interest for us to fall on our sword, but lets not mince words – that sword’s going to run us through. Others might argue that it’s well past the time we start looking to energy alternatives.

Charlie must not be interested in running for re-election, or for VP either. A lot of us Floridians suffer from a little too much sun, and we can appear to be a bit dim witted at times (re: 2000). But a lot of us still have enough wits about us to recognize what our meal ticket is, and it ain’t natural gas. We may be suffering at the pump (and from the resulting inflation) like everyone else, but it’s nothing like the suffering we’ll face if the backbone of our economy breaks. Just ask the folks in the rust belt what it’s like when your main industry pulls up stakes.

So now I have to wonder, what good does Charlie do McCain if he can’t bring Florida with him? I used to think he was a pretty savvy politician. Now, not so much.

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