por Humberto Fontova

That clique of noisy, well-heeled and politically powerful south Florida voters is at it again. And as usual, Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Mel Martinez are pandering shamelessly. Never mind the national interest. This cantankerous group's archaic prejudices still prevail. Never mind simple logic. Their emotions still guide our national policy to the frustration of the rest of the nation, to the detriment of our economic well-being and to the bitter amusement of much of the world.

Never mind almost half a century of visible evidence against their moss-ridden bugaboos. Their zealotry, intransigence and apparently incurable block-headedness again prevail. This groveling by Republican politicians to a fringe group of highly emotional Florida voters is a national scandal by now. It's high time these hotheads in Florida got with the national program. They need to shed their petty obsessions with the past and start assessing the national interest soberly and in light of current developments, not stale policies enacted in the heat of hysteria almost half a century ago. Most outrageous of all, their policies hurt the very people they claim to help.

I refer, of course, to offshore oil drilling, currently banned off Florida because of rich pressure groups. That shock and awe at the gas pump might wake a few people up. There's something called the law of supply and demand. Rant and rave all you want , bellow and whine all you want, throw as many tantrums as you want, hold as many rain dances as you want, hold as many seances with ghosts as you want, sacrifice as many virgins as you want, burn as many witches as you want--but no amount of legislation or wishful thinking will abolish it.

We need more oil and there's millions of barrels offshore, especially in the eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida. Soon Fidel Castro himself with the help of Spanish and Chinese Oil companies (who are not subject to U.S. environmental rules) will be drilling for it barely 45 miles of the Florida coast. This raises the fascinating prospect of Florida beaches fouled by the very oil we'll later use to fuel the SUVs to transport us to those beaches--all purchased from Communists who crave to blow us up.

Only politicians could create such a prospect.

Actually the fouling of the beaches is a long shot. The environmental dangers of oil exploration and extraction rank right up with the marvels of Cuba's health-care as modern man's most zealously cherished fables. It's the transportation of oil that accounts for the overwhelming number of oil spills. Recall the Valdez, the Cadiz, the Argo Merchant. These were all tanker spills.

And even these ( though hyped hysterically as environmental catastrophes) always play out as minor blips, those pictures of oil soaked seagulls notwithstanding. To the horror and anguish of professional greenies, Alaska's Prince William sound recovered completely. More birds get fried by landing on power lines and smashed to pulp against picture windows in one week than perished from three decades of oil spills.

In fact, Florida's gorgeous and tourist-packed beaches have suffered from an ugly oil spill. It happened summer of 1976 off Panama city and Destin, by far the most beautiful beaches in America. That sugar white sand and those emerald waters were fouled from a tanker spill. The current drilling ban will make another such spill more likely. The ban not only puts us at the mercy of shaky shiekdoms and Hugo Chavez for oil, it also means we'll need to keep transporting that oil stateside – typically to refineries in Louisiana and Texas. This path takes those tankers smack in front of Florida's beaches.

But there's another resource shortage that more drilling would solve. "Big-Fish Stocks Fall 90 Percent Since 1950," said a National Geographic headline a couple years ago."Our demand for seafood appears to be insatiable. From giant blue marlin to mighty bluefin tuna, and from tropical groupers to Antarctic cod, industrial fishing has scoured the global ocean. There is no blue frontier left."

Then let's create a new fishing frontier, using offshore oil platforms and the explosion of marine life that always accompany their installation. It happened here in Louisiana. The observable evidence is overwhelming. The verdict is in. Of the 3,739 offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico nowadays, 3,203 lie off the Louisiana coast. We love offshore oil drilling, and not just for the loot (taxes) extorted from oil companies for the privilege.

"Environmentalists" wake up in the middle of the night sweating and whimpering about offshore oil platforms only because they've never seen what's under them. This proliferation of marine life around the platforms turned on its head every "expert" opinion of its day. The original plan, mandated by federal environmental "experts" back in the late '40s, was to remove the big, ugly, polluting, environmentally hazardous contraptions as soon as they stopped producing. Fine, said the oil companies.

About 15 years ago some wells played out off Louisiana and the oil companies tried to comply. Their ears are still ringing from the clamor fishermen put up. Turns out those platforms are going nowhere, and by popular demand of those with a bigger stake in the marine environment than any "environmentalist."

Every "environmental" superstition against these structures was turned on its head. Marine life had EXPLODED around these huge artificial reefs. Louisiana produces on third of America's seafood In fact a study by Louisiana State University shows that 85 percent of Louisiana offshore fishing trips involve fishing around these structures and that there's 50 times more marine life around an oil production platform than in the surrounding Gulf bottoms. Louisiana produces one-third of America's commercial fisheries--because of, not in spite of, these platforms.

All of this and not one major oil spill in half a century--not one. As more assurance, today's drilling technology compares to the one used only 20 years ago about like the Kitty Hawk compares to a jumbo jet. The one that gave us the Santa Barbara Oil Spill in 1969 compares to today's like a fossil.

Market forces, not meddlesome bureaucrats, account for cleaner, safer oil drilling. A deep-water drilling rig might cost $1 billion. This thing has to produce oil daily – hourly! – to recoup such a gargantuan investment. A blowout and spill would shut them down for weeks. No oil company could stay in business that way.

In 1986 Louisiana started the Rigs to Reef program, a cooperative effort by oil companies, the feds and the state. This program literally pays the oil companies to keep the platforms in the Gulf. Now they just cut them off at the bottom and topple them over as artificial reefs; over 60 have been toppled thus far.

Louisiana wildlife and fisheries officials were recently invited to Australia to help them with a similar program. Think about it: here's the nation with the Great Barrier Reef, the world's biggest natural reef, the world's top dive destination, asking for help from Louisiana about developing exciting dive and fishing sites by using the very structures that epitomize (in greenie eyes) environmental disaster.

Mark Ferrulo, a Florida "environmental activist" who lobbies incessantly against offshore drilling called Louisiana's coastal waters "the nation's toilet."

Then Florida's fishing fleet must love fishing in toilets. And her restaurants serving what's in them. Many of the red snapper you eat in Florida restaurants are caught around Louisiana's oil platforms. We see the Florida-registered boats tied up to them constantly. Sometimes we can barely squeeze in.

It also turns out that Louisiana's natural reefs are much healthier than the much-protected and pampered Florida reefs. The Flower Garden coral reefs lie off the Louisiana-Texas border. Unlike any of the Florida Keys reefs, they're surrounded by dozens of offshore oil platforms that have been pumping away for the past 40 years. Yet according to G.P. Schmahl, a Federal biologist who worked for decades in both places, "The Flower Gardens are much healthier, more pristine than anything in the Florida Keys. It was a surprise to me, and I think it's a surprise to most people."

"A key measure of the health of a reef is the amount of area taken up by coral," according to a report by Steve Gittings, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's science coordinator for marine sanctuaries. "Louisiana's Flower Garden boasts nearly 50 percent coral cover. … in the Florida Keys ... it can run as little as 5 percent."

The panorama under an offshore oil platform staggers the most experienced divers. I've seen divers fresh from the Cayman's Wall surface from under an oil platform too wired on adrenaline to do anything but stutter and wipe spastically at the snot that trails to their chins. I've seen an experienced scuba-babe fresh from Belize climb out from under a platform gasping and shrieking at the sights and sensations, oblivious to the sights and sensations she was providing with her bikini top near her navel.

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