President Biden should reject new oil-drilling leases that would threaten Florida’s coast | Opinion

As Hurricane Ian barreled into Florida’s Gulf Coast, it was another difficult reminder that worsening climate change already is here and wreaking havoc on coastal communities. Burning fossil fuels is the leading cause of climate change, and offshore drilling puts us in a vicious cycle of drilling, polluting and spilling.

Offshore drilling means devastating oil spills that shut down coastal economies, and more frequent and intense hurricanes are making drilling even riskier. Right now, President Joe Biden is deciding the future of drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast and has the power to prevent even more dirty and dangerous offshore oil drilling.

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded off Louisiana’s coast in 2010, the impacts to Florida’s economy were widespread, because critical industries such as tourism, fishing and recreation rely on a clean coast and a healthy, oil-free ocean. Following that disaster, 10 million days of beach, fishing and boating activity along the Gulf were lost forever. This equated to $500 million in gross domestic product losses for the recreation industry, $950 million in lost sales for the seafood industry and a regional drop in home prices of about 8%.

As the oil spread throughout the Gulf, the region experienced hotel cancellations, and tourism tanked. When fisheries and beaches closed, tourists canceled their trips, and the impact rippled through Florida’s economy. National consumer confidence in eating seafood declined after the disaster. The loss to the seafood industry is estimated at nearly $1 billion, since consumers were less willing to purchase Gulf shrimp, crabs and oysters because of health concerns.

Today, Florida’s coastal economy supports more than 650,000 jobs and $43 billion in GDP, according to a report from Oceana, and we cannot allow further oil-spill disasters to put those jobs and Florida’s economic vitality at risk.

Biden is considering up to 10 new lease sales in the central and western Gulf, which could potentially bring another oil-spill disaster to Florida’s shores. As a candidate, Biden promised to end new leasing for offshore drilling. We’re calling on him to fulfill that promise. The stakes are too high. New offshore drilling threatens Florida’s economy, while contributing to the climate crisis.

The best time to end this vicious cycle of “drill, spill, repeat” has long passed, but Biden can finally close this chapter and put us on a path to a sustainable climate future. Impacts from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina together destroyed more than 100 offshore oil platforms in the Gulf and shut down numerous refineries. As Hurricane Ian tracks toward Florida, we hope that all impacted may make it out safely, the damage is limited, resources needed to recover are available and our environment is spared from more devastating oil disasters.

But hope will not be enough to prevent catastrophic climate changes or the next oil-spill disaster. We must stop repeating the mistakes of our past. Biden’s final decision on his plan for future offshore drilling depends on the people who make their voices heard.

The administration is accepting public comments through Oct. 6. Biden must hear directly from the people who will be most affected: Americans living along our coasts, who are facing intensifying hurricanes, increased flooding and a higher risk for oil-spill disasters. Any new offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico will leave Florida vulnerable. We cannot afford any more Hurricane Ians. It’s time for Biden to decide to protect our coasts.

Diane Hoskins is Oceana climate and energy campaign director.