Nelson in Panama City

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson took a whirlwind tour of the Northwest Florida Thursday, holding town meetings in five counties. He wrapped up in Bay County at the FSU Panama City Branch Campus, discussing a couple of major issues.

Sen. Nelson is well aware of an issue that concerns a lot of people in the area, offshore oil and gas exploration.

Until last year, most of Florida's elected leaders were unanimous in their opposition to any drilling in the Gulf of Mexico off the Florida coastline. But when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita damaged oil production off Louisiana and Texas and gas prices began to soar, some Florida leaders began to change their minds.

In the end, Florida agreed to offshore exploration as long as it was at least 125 miles off the coast. In exchange, Congress put the provisions into law, so it will be difficult to change.

But Nelson says the Department of Interior is trying to pull a fast one. He says the agency is trying to redraw offshore administrative boundaries an attempt to open the panhandle gulf to oil and natural gas drilling.

He says it's just like the plan Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu abandoned last year after Nelson staged a brief filibuster.

“People of Panama City have every reason to want to have pristine beaches and not have oil sloshing up onto these sugary white beaches."

The other hot issue is President Bush's latest Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Democrats fear he could overturn major decisions such as Roe vs. Wade.

Sen. Nelson says he hasn't made up his mind about Alito yet. Nelson says he needs to look at the nominee eyeball to eyeball, and speak with him before making a decision.

"When I look at any judge, federal court, appeal, Supreme Court, is somebody who is going to be fair minded, who is not partisan. I want a judge who that will apply the fact to the law and make an impartial decision. In other words I don't want a know it all."

Sen. Nelson will get his chance to look Alito in the eyes next week. He has an hour-long meeting scheduled with Alito next Wednesday in Washington.