This week's special legislative session regarding offshore drilling in Florida will be a lot of things. It will be a stage for political theater, as politicians crowd the dais for an opportunity to promote themselves on either side of the hot-button issue going into the fall elections. It will be a battleground for competing special interests that for one reason or another do or do not support tighter regulations. It will be a chance for people who were long in favor of drilling to be anointed into the suddenly more fashionable role of being against it. And most of all, it will be a debate over direct democracy.
House Republicans have already made it quite clear that they are adamantly opposed to a constitutional amendment to ban drilling in state waters, three to ten miles offshore. Governor Crist, who once favored lifting the ban, is now running for U.S. Senate as part of his coastline is awash in tar balls after a drilling disaster much further out. There are obvious political motives for executing a hard about face.
Republicans can easily point to the fact that state law already bans such drilling, but there is a sound argument for allowing the people, rather than future politicians, to decide whether such law remains intact. One would think that the impact that Florida has felt from a drilling accident several states away would make the merit of a ban against drilling infinitely closer to shore obvious to all. Clearly, it hasn't.
I'm not sure when and if a significant majority of politicians would be brazen enough to suggest we allow oil companies to park rigs just off our coast, but there is a surprising number who've yet to recant on offshore drilling in the midst of this disaster, and that makes many people uncomfortable for what the future may hold, especially when this catastrophe eventually wanes. I have greater faith that the citizens will remain permanently mindful of what this spill has taught us, and as any state belongs to its citizens and not its elected officials, it seems the power should be in their hands.
The amount of oil that is estimated to be in the gulf (about two weeks of U.S. demand), is very lucrative to oil companies, but at the same time, rather inconsequential to the average Floridian. Even if every drop were harvested, it would not have a remotely significant impact on the price they pay at the pump and the heightened awareness of this fact seems to be one of the few good things that have come out of this. Perhaps a constitutional ban on offshore drilling can be the other.
Crist's motives may well be political, but that is aside from the point. Opposing a referendum to allow the people to decide the future fate of such policy is worse, as it seems that the position of the people is not only clear on this issue, but also sound. The risk of drilling so closely to our shoreline poses potentially catastrophic results to both our ecology and our economy, as we have clearly seen through our current dilemma. The only interests who can demonstrate a payoff from such enormous risk to justify them are the ultra-profitable oil companies and their minions in elected office.
Direct democracy is a complicated matter, especially in a government of elected representation. There are many issues that are beyond the average citizen and require a permanent focus to make informed decisions. This is not one of them. Florida simply cannot afford to imperil its greatest resource for minimal short-term gain. The people of this state seem to understand that, now better than ever. There is no complicated argument to made here, just vague insinuations about energy independence and economic impact that are routinely demonstrated not to hold water.
The best argument to be made against direct referendums is competent and incorruptible governments that routinely act in the best interest of their constituents and not moneyed special interests. That argument has not been made and until it has, I say let the power remain in the hands of the people where it belongs.
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