George Sheldon calls for halt on seismic testing off of Atlantic coast

Locked in a tight battle with House Minority Leader Perry Thurston for the Democratic nomination for Florida attorney general, George Sheldon announced this morning that he opposes seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast of Florida, countering the recently announced plans to do such testing by his former boss, President Obama.

“This testing will lead to a long-term, nonstop seismic onslaught that is likely to kill 380,000 fish and marine mammals, according to the Bureau’s own estimates,” Sheldon said in a statement released on his campaign web page on Monday.

The Obama administration stunned environmentalists last month when the the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved the use of sonic cannons to discover deposits under the ocean floor by shooting sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine through waters shared by endangered whales and turtles. It's considered the first step toward identifying new oil and gas deposits in federal waters from Florida to Delaware. That information is needed for energy companies who are preparing to apply for drilling leases in 2018 if the government reopens the area for exploration, which is expected.

In his statement, Sheldon writes that testing poses not only serious environmental risks, but economic concerns as well. 

"Fishermen have raised concerns about the effects on their industry — $5 billion in Florida alone, creating more than 80,000 jobs," he writes. "Fish can move more easily than mammals to avoid the noise temporarily, but eventually spawning grounds are disrupted and fish populations suffer."

And Sheldon, who served in President Obama's Health and Human Services Dept. as acting assistant secretary for children and families for more than two years, says Obama's decision to open up the Atlantic Coast for seismic testing "contradicts many of his recent initiatives toward a sustainable energy future," citing the EPA's recently released regulations to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. "The Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 demonstrated that we should be moving away from drilling for oil, not creating new policies to support it," he writes.

Although the press release from Sheldon's campaign emphasizes that he is "breaking" from the Obama administration in opposing the seismic testing, it's the sensible (and non-controversial) thing to do as a Florida Democrat who considers himself an environmentalist. And he's not the first Democrat to criticize Obama on it;  Senator Bill Nelson issued a statement blasting the decision last month.

With early voting beginning this week in Florida as the Democratic nomination for attorney general race looms just 15 days out, it's important for Sheldon to get back to talking about policy and not about whether he's even legally allowed to become the next attorney general in Florida. That's because of questions raised by Thurston supporters about Sheldon's residency status. The Florida Constitution requires that the AG reside in Florida in the seven year preceding his or her election. But Sheldon applied for (and received) an exemption to the Florida Bar rules for nonresident members when he admitted to the Bar that from 2011-2013 he was living in Washington D.C.

“Mr. Sheldon can't have it both ways," said Henry Crespo, president of the Democratic Black Caucus, last week. "He can't be a “Resident” for purposes of Florida Constitutional requirements and a “Non-Resident” for the Purpose of Florida Bar Rules and as an Officer of the Court." Crespo went on to say that Sheldon has been a good Democrat throughout his career but the right thing to "continue being a good Democrat is to step aside."

Sheldon isn't about to do so.

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