BP’s deadly Macondo explosion and oil spill lingers in the memory of those opposed to expanding Gulf drilling closer to Florida. Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

The old proverb that we “can’t have our cake and eat it too” is a convenient way to describe a situation with two contradictory elements. And that’s what U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, the Metairie Republican and House Majority Whip, presents to us as he pushes to expand offshore oil and gas drilling where it has not been allowed before — into the eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida.

The “cake” in this case is Florida’s white sand beaches, our open Gulf waters, and the tourism and military-based economy they support. The inherently dirty and risky business of offshore drilling threatens to “eat” the “cake” that makes Florida special.

I live in the Florida panhandle and work for the Gulf Restoration Network, a nonprofit organization based in New Orleans that works in all five U.S. Gulf states toward a healthy and restored Gulf of Mexico. While leaders of other Gulf states chose offshore drilling for their coasts, Florida chose a different path.

You won’t see tarballs on our beaches, rigs on the horizon, or pipelines crisscrossing our coast. When we go to the beach we find a blessed landscape of sugar white sand and blue-green water, and when we look offshore we see a clear, uninterrupted horizon.

We love to share our beaches and waters with the people of Louisiana and other Gulf states. I see it every August with the flood of Louisiana license plates that arrive right before school starts again for the fall. The people of Louisiana are a very friendly bunch, I will say.

In the spring and summer of 2010, I was one of those Floridians who watched oil wash ashore in the panhandle and our economy collapse along the entire Gulf coast.  It was the summer in which the tourists never came.

The 2010 BP oil disaster happened at a rig that was between 100 and 200 miles from areas of the Florida coast that received oil from the spill. So distance clearly was not enough to save our beaches and economy from harm. Moving rigs even closer only increases the risk.

Even Gov. Rick Scott, a conservative Republican who supported drilling early in his political career, has now expressed strong opposition to drilling off the State’s coast.

Florida lawmakers at every level are nearly unanimous in their opposition to drilling in the eastern Gulf. Every Florida governor back to the early 1980’s has consistently expressed opposition to drilling off Florida and worked to restrict or eliminate it. Even Gov. Rick Scott, a conservative Republican who supported drilling early in his political career, has now expressed strong opposition to drilling off the State’s coast.

We are also taking steps to wean ourselves from fossil fuels, reducing the need for more drilling. The Department of Defense recently installed tens of thousands of grid-tied solar panels on panhandle military bases. Local solar energy companies report that business is booming like never before.

Scalise’s efforts to expand drilling puts Florida right up against the edge. That’s the same edge that the BP oil disaster brought to us when rig operators pushed the envelope by ignoring safety protocols and pushing for production above all else. They tried to have their cake and eat it too.

While Scalise and others may favor drilling for Louisiana’s coast, we don’t want it here off Florida. In fact, we want to see the current eastern Gulf moratorium on drilling extended rather than letting it expire in 2022.

In the meantime, we’ll happily welcome the friendly people of Louisiana back to our beaches every year. But to keep those beaches clean and healthy, please tell Scalise to keep the rigs away.

Christian Wagley is coastal organizer in Florida and Alabama for Gulf Restoration Network.

Views expressed in the Opinion section are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens founder Karen Gadbois.