Rep. Dunn, Florida Delegation send letter to Sec. Mattis on offshore drilling

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WJHG/WECP) - Congressman Neal Dunn and Senator Marco Rubio are leading the entire Florida delegation to ensure the Sunshine State is kept off the table for offshore drilling.

They've sent a letter, signed by all 29 Florida lawmakers, to Defense Secretary James Mattis. The letter urges Mattis to take note of the unique asset that is the Gulf test and training range, and the role it plays in ensuring military readiness. Representative Dunn says the coast a unique asset for the military to train in, and that it needs to be protected beyond the moratorium of 2022.

"We have recently succeeded in getting all of these seismic and sonar testing out of the Gulf range. But we want to extend that beyond 2022, so the entire Florida delegation signed onto the letter to help James Mattis, Secretary Mattis, get to the point where he's actually encouraging the president to do the same," Representative Dunn said.

Among other locations, the letter cites the Eastern Gulf of Mexico Planning Area, where "Any encroachment on this range through drilling or pre-drilling activities could prove detrimental to our nation’s security and military’s readiness including utilization by joint U.S. Forces for multiple training evolutions."

The letter discusses training exercises carried out by Tyndall Air Force Base's F-22s, Eglin Air Force Base's F-35s, and Naval sub-surface, surface-to-surface testing, hypersonic weapons testing from Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division.

"Given the weapons training coordinated, you don't want to have a bunch of oil rigs under a live fire exercise area," Representative Dunn said.

The letter comes amid discussion that Florida is still under consideration for offshore oil drilling, despite a Jan. 9 announcement from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that energy exploration off the coast of Florida was "off the table."

Walter Cruickshank, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management director, said "[Zinke's] statement stands for itself, and we have no formal decision yet on what is in or out of the five-year program."

Representative Dunn says the next step is for Secretary Mattis to write a letter to the White House.