Amendment 9 would stop offshore drilling in Florida

That's fantastic, but there's more we can — and should — do to protect our beaches.

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click to enlarge Amendment 9 would stop offshore drilling in Florida
United States Coast Guard

On November 6, you’ll have a choice to make on Amendment 9: “Yes” constitutionally bans offshore drilling and “no” doesn’t. If voters pass Amendment 9, we’ll change our state’s constitution to ban oil and gas drilling in Florida state waters. That’s three nautical miles out from the Atlantic Ocean and nine from the Gulf. Odds are, by now, you know (or, if you disagree, have at least heard) the reasons this amendment makes sense: Drilling can lead to spills (or rig explosions) which threaten not only wildlife but our way of life. With no income tax — as mandated by our constitution — Florida depends on tourism to shore up its smoke-and-mirrors economy. An oil spill — or the sight of an oil rig from Clearwater Beach — would definitely make paradise a little grimier, either metaphorically or in practice. Less “Sunshine State,” more “Sun Reflected Off the Oil Slick State,” and all that.

I’ll vote yes, and so should you — as long as you’re willing to make some changes.

If I ran the circus, I’d ban all oil and gas exploration everywhere in the world. But depending on laws to protect paradise — or our planet — doesn’t go nearly far enough. So unless we, as individuals, can commit to a few other things, we may as well plop as many rigs down as we can. 

Look, no one I know loves the idea of drilling for oil. At least, not in theory. But in practice, we tell a different story.

See, the thing is, all of us voting for Amendment 9 would love to believe it’s a forever fix, but it isn’t — not necessarily.

“Right now, there is a ban in state statute but in 2009, the Florida House voted to repeal it,” Susan Glickman, the Florida director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, says. “The Senate did not concur, fortunately, but we need the extra protection of putting it in the state constitution. It requires another constitutional amendment to change it.”

So Amendment 9 offers Florida more protection from offshore oil rigs, but if  — or when — the day comes when we can’t depend on existing fuel sources, we won’t feel as though we can do anything but drill. So, yes, as Glickman says, it’s an extra protection, but it isn’t the ultimate defense and it isn’t fair to future generations to pass this law unless we’re all willing to make changes that lessen our dependence on any source of fuel. 

Of course, the thinking is we can go to wind and solar power, because they’re infinite and renewable, but when we first started using oil, we didn’t see what could possibly go wrong with that, either. History teaches us the lion’s share of environmental disasters — straightening the Kissimmee River, draining the Everglades for farmland and building a dike around Lake Okeechobee spring to mind, but there’s no shortage of ‘em anywhere in the country — come about because we didn’t know what we didn’t know. 

Let’s have less faith in there being no downside to alternative fuel sources and more in our power as voters and individuals to not only pass Amendment 9, but to change our consumption habits. Because those habits? They’re what’s feeding oil exploration. Big Oil won’t be able to afford to drill without sufficient demand. It’s an economic issue, supply and demand: Decrease demand. We can’t out-lobby, out-PAC or out-fund Big Oil, but we can hurt their bottom line in other ways. 

Fast forward: We’ve passed Amendment 9. What are we doing to decrease the demand? 

What we shouldn’t do is swear off our cars or forsake everything that uses plastic; that’s akin to going on a hardcore diet — we lose a lot of weight but we can’t maintain it forever, so we fail. And really, we’re not going to sell our cars... but we can carpool to the office one or two days a week, even though our coworker has burrito wrappers carpeting her passenger floorboard. Maybe we swear off those tiny bottles of plastic water on a daily basis, but allow ourselves one after a 5K downtown.

Does it sound a little like I’m saying passing Amendment 9 won’t work if we don’t make some changes in our own lives?

I am. 

Don’t misunderstand: I’m saying we need to pass Amendment 9. I’m saying we need to make it as hard as possible for anyone to drill for oil off our coast, ever. But I’m also saying that if, a decade from now, we don’t want to vote on another amendment to the constitution allowing offshore drilling, we need to pass Amendment 9 — and then we need to makes changes in our own lives. 

We need to walk the walk. We cannot depend on Tallahassee to safeguard paradise; we’re accountable.

I’m not proselytizing — I’m guilty too. I’ve made some changes and I’ll make more as I find them. Some of them are a pain in the ass. Not buying squeeze bottles of condiments? Annoying as hell. Going without greens in the summer because I want to buy veggies not trucked in from California? Sucks. Bringing my own refillable spice bottles to Lucky’s instead of using a bag? Inconvenient. Each of these actions reinforces my beliefs in Amendment 9, though, and, as I said at the top of this page, passing Amendment 9 safeguards our beaches, waters and our state’s economy. 

I’m voting yes. I hope you will, too. 

“Amendment 9 is a rare opportunity to protect Florida’s beaches and marine life from oil spills, sustain our way of life and tourism-based economy and jobs by putting a ban on oil and gas drilling in the state constitution,” Glickman says.

I couldn’t agree more; Amendment 9 is a great start.

It’s up to us to take it to the finish line. 

Contact Cathy Salustri

About The Author

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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