Don't let recession endanger our shores

By Sue Carlton, Times Columnist

Published Tuesday, November 3, 2009

For a minute, the news around here sounded almost good.

Stories said the recession could be over (though we wouldn't mind seeing a little evidence of that), and if I heard right, some local home­owners could be seeing their Citizens' property insurance rates go down. Even the weather got better, with the heat that melted Halloween pumpkins into dentureless old men letting up for about a second there.

Then this sobering story: A St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald/Bay News 9 poll showed that 54 percent of the Florida voters surveyed somewhat-to-strongly support oil drilling a mere 3 to 10 miles from shore. Opposed: 40 percent.

And apparently I don't know my neighbors like I thought I did.

Sure, you can rail about lies, damned lies and statistics, or about the nuances of polling, but clearly we have shifted from the days when a ban to protect our state shores seemed as sure as the sunrise.

Why? Because we're in crisis. Because we're at war. Because we're afraid. Because we can't find jobs. Because we love our cars and we buy oil for them from people who don't like us. Because this economy bites and we want to do something to fix it.

But as my Old Florida relatives would say, this ain't it.

Powerful interests want you to believe this would be a start, predicting gazillions (okay, billions) in state revenue plus jobs to boot. But do not think that if our state passes this monumentally bad idea, a gallon of gas will quickly drop to a buck. This will not be Jed Clampett shooting at some food and up through the ground comes a bubblin' crude, along with a promise of a cement pond for every Floridian. This will not mean we can thumb our noses at those other sources of oil.

And what we risk is so great. Are we really willing to gamble the best of Florida — our beaches? (No big surprise that people surveyed farther from the coast were more willing to make the sacrifice.)

Even if worrying about the potential impact on our state's unique beauty and marine life is too turtle-hugging for your taste, think of the tourism that is critical to our economy and all that could go wrong with oil drilling off our shores. Think tar and pollution and spills.

Think of giving up something about Florida we may never get back. Think of this as your elected officials in Tallahassee take up this critical issue next year with those powerful interests whispering in their legislative ears.

Okay, you're asking, so what else are we supposed to do?

Better fuel efficiency for our cars. Serious public transportation beyond half-baked bus service, including those light rail options that could be coming soon to a referendum near you. It was encouraging to see business leaders and elected types from around the Tampa Bay area show up for a big transportation forum this week — something suspiciously more like looking ahead than selling out for the short term.

Remember "Drill baby drill?" Like any good and mindless jingle, how cool that sounded when gas was four bucks a gallon. How patriotic. How in-your-face. How take-that-foreign-oil.

And how cavalier and meaningless it turns out to be, a motto you'd expect from people willing to sell off the best of our state.

Not my neighbors, though.

Say it ain't so.