Florida Gov. Crist demands constitutional amendment for offshore drilling law that’s already on the books

Chris Moody Contributor
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Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is demanding an end to all oil exploration off his state’s coast and reinforcing his call for an offshore drilling ban — a law the legislature has already put in place.

“I would like to have a special session to ban it here in the Sunshine State,” he said in an interview on Monday with the Early Show on CBS. “We’re so dependent on tourism for our economy, it’s very important that we keep [the beaches] clean.”

But Florida already has a ban on offshore drilling in state waters within 10 miles off the coast, a review of current law shows. Federal law also restricts drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico near Florida.

Crist’s Senate opponent Marco Rubio quickly responded to the governor’s remarks, accusing Crist of using the crisis to see publicity for the Senate race.

“While Florida’s communities are desperate for more help to protect our coast, Charlie Crist is going in front of the cameras to praise the Obama administration and call for the banning of something that’s already banned in our state,” said Rubio campaign spokesman Joe Pounder.

When Crist first announced in May he would seek a special legislative session to discuss a state ban on oil drilling, Rubio called it “an election year stunt.”

A spokesman from Crist’s office said a constitutional amendment banning oil drilling would benefit the state by giving Florida citizens a say in the matter, but might not add much in terms of substance to the law already in place.

“The difference is simply in the fact that the constitutional amendment would be from a majority vote of Floridians,” said Crist’s press secretary, Sterling Ivey.  “And depending on how language is structured, the distance may change,” he added.

A spokeswoman from the governor’s office said she could not provide specifics until an amendment is drafted.

“Those details are actually still being ironed out while he’s talking with the legislative leadership,” said Jessi Freud, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office. “There’s no language at this point.”

Crist, who is running for Senate as an independent, has changed his views on offshore drilling a few times over the past few years. He publicly opposed offshore drilling before 2008, then announced his support during a period of high gasoline prices, and then reverted back to his original stance shortly after the BP oil spill this year.

A June Rassmussen poll found that 33 percent of Florida residents support a state constitutional amendment banning drilling off the coast. Of those polled, 61 percent of Republicans said they would oppose an amendment, while 49 percent of Democrats support it.