Ever since Cuba’s intent to drill within 70 miles of Florida’s coast has become known, concerned Floridians have been reeling with how to protect our treasured Florida Keys. For many Floridians, this is a very charged issue. It’s no secret that having Cuba drill for oil is itself a hugely political issue-- exiles and many others outraged at Cuba potentially developing significant oil resources. Add to that the fact that a spill in the area would seriously endanger one of the country’s most sensitive ecosystems, (and an economic engine for Florida tourism) and you have a firestorm.
This would not be the first time that oil could generate a windfall for a dictator. We have been enriching unstable governments for years due to our deadly addiction to oil. But so far, our consumptive dependence on oil has only prompted us to deal with threats to our national energy security from our oil “dealer’s” threats to increase prices, block the Strait of Hormuz, and manipulate markets knowing we’re at their mercy. In this case, the oil producer is also a neighbor and the risk to the iconic Florida Keys has truly brought the threat home.
The Keys are known as the recreational fishing and scuba diving capital of the world. Extensive coral reefs on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in Florida are home to some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, mangroves, sea grass, coral reefs and marine life and the related tourism it generates is no small sum. In 2010, Florida welcomed 82.3 million visitors who spent more than $62.7 billion; and the industry provided employment to nearly a million residents. Each year, Florida generates more than $37.3 billion and 452,811 jobs to Florida's economy on fisheries, wildlife, and activities carried out in its waters.
We need great political will to pave the way towards a clean energy future and sometimes fear can be a great motivator. In this case, fear that Cuban oil development would result in Cuba becoming an oil producing country or causing a spill that would pollute our beloved backyard has motivated some who generally don’t recognize the environmental toll of drilling, to speak out against it. It has also resulted in a bipartisan group of legislators including Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio to introduce a bill in the Senate (S. 1836), and David Rivera (R-FL) along with a group of 16 bipartisan co-sponsors to do the same in the House (H.R. 3393) calling for penalties on oil spills-- without limitations.
The risks of drilling are real and not limited to drilling done by countries who we don’t play well with. Yes, the dangers of a spill in Cuba are real and out of four hands, but even where U.S. drilling is concerned, the president’s National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling concluded the oil industry lacked the kind of safety culture that could prevent another disaster. And even here, the government lacks the authority and resources necessary to police the industry. We cannot waste another opportunity to take measures to ensure the safety and well being of our communities by holding polluters and policy makers accountable.
Let’s not wait for the next disaster. We must make an effort to wean ourselves from oil now or continue to face big risks and deal with situations like these where dictators are all too ready to become the next “oil dealer” eager to feed our dirty oil addiction.
It’s time to call on our leaders in Congress to protect special places from drilling, protect our oceans, adopt adequate penalties, and most importantly, to support a swift transition to a clean and vibrant energy future.