The Bush administration is proposed opening two million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling, targeting an area that sits about 100 miles south of Florida's Panhandle.
Congress has battled for years between pro-drilling advocates who say the nation needs the domestic oil and gas production that could be found there and environmentalists who say it could endanger the ecosystem and the state's tourism economy.
Johnnie Burton of the Department of Interior said his proposal is much needed. It will be finalized over the coming year after time for public comments.
"With sharply higher energy prices buffeting both families and businesses, we want to be sure that we fully consider the environmentally sensitive development of the vast domestic oil and gas resources off our coasts," Burton said.
The Department of Interior can act without Congress' approval. The draft proposal released this afternoon is part of a five-year plan for drilling along the nation's outer continental shelf that would take effect next summer.
But Florida lawmakers who oppose drilling near the state likely will try to overturn the administration's proposal.
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., said the administration's plan did not allow drilling in as extensive an area as it could have. But he said it offers Floridians only a five-year promise that areas such as those within 100 miles of the state won't be subject to drilling.
Martinez and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., have proposed allowing exploration in a smaller area in exchange for a permanent ban on drilling closer to Florida.
"We're quibbling over a significant amount of ocean floor," Martinez said.