Gov. Rick Scott found himself on both sides of the fence on Tuesday when he said in a speech that he supports oil drilling in the Everglades, then hours later issued a clarification that he didn’t mean “an expansion of drilling.”
Scott’s remarks to the Tallahassee-based Economics Club of Florida were prompted by an audience member who asked whether the governor agreed with Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann’s call last week for oil drilling in the Everglades for “additional energy.”
“You know we already have drilling in the Everglades. We already have oil wells in the Everglades,’’ Scott replied. “There’s a road in Naples called ‘Oil Well Road,’ so we already have oil drilling. We’ve had it since 1943.’’
He noted that most Floridians are “very shocked” to learn that drilling is happening in Florida. He added that “I think we have to be very cautious if there’s going to be any more drilling.”
The comments unleashed immediate warnings from environmentalists, who have fought for decades to shield South Florida’s crucial watershed from additional oil drilling as they attempt to restore the Everglades ecosystem.
"My suggestion to the Governor is quite simple: Don’t go there,’’ said Kirk Fordham, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, the non-profit agency formed to advocate for protection of the state’s River of Grass. “Unless Governor Scott wants to unleash a firestorm of opposition from hunters, fishermen, conservationists and millions of Floridians who depend on the Everglades for their water supply, he should abandon any notion of encouraging drilling in this sacred place."
Within hours, the governor’s office issued a clarification of his statement, retreating from any suggestion that Scott’s remarks could be implied as supportive of additional drilling in the Everglades.
“Governor Scott has not called for an expansion of drilling in the Everglades,’’ said Amy Graham, deputy communications secretary. “That discussion is not on the table.
The issue has traditionally been a tricky one for presidential candidates in Florida. In 2008, GOP presidential contender Fred Thompson said he’d open up the Everglades to more oil drilling only to have GOP rival Mitt Romney respond: “You’re kidding...Let’s take that off the table.”
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