Posted by R. Neal

Earlier this week I applauded Florida Governor Jeb Bush for leading an effort to stop offshore drilling along the Gulf Coast. It seems my accolades were premature. The Orlando Sentinel reports today (free registration required) that Gov. Jeb has abruptly reversed his position and now wants to lift the offshore drilling ban on a lease near the Florida coast:

Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that he supports federal legislation allowing drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico -- including areas where he aggressively fought energy exploration just four years ago.

Bush cited new political realities and protections he thinks he could win for the state in exchange.

Environmentalists, Democrats and Republican U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida staunchly oppose the bill, which would allow oil and gas drilling 125 miles from Florida waters. They continue to insist that a strong political front in Florida can stop all new drilling in the eastern Gulf.

"Sure they do," Bush said, deriding their position. "But that's great. I've talked to the fairy godmother about it."

Gee, I wonder who the "fairy godmother" is? Regardless, I bet that was an interesting conversation. The article continues:

Not too long ago, the governor joined these same critics in staunchly opposing oil and gas drilling even beyond the 125-mile mark. In 2001, he strongly lobbied his brother, President Bush, to significantly scale back drilling in an energy-rich area called Lease Sale 181, which sits more than 200 miles west of Tampa.

"As a result, there will be no new drilling in the Lease Sale 181 Area off the coast of Florida under my watch," Gov. Bush proudly stated in a news release July 6, 2001.

The current legislation that Bush is helping to shape would allow drilling in Lease Sale 181, which is off-limits to oil and gas exploration until 2007.

One portion of that area, called the stovepipe because of its shape, juts to within 23 miles of Pensacola. But drilling is prohibited in the region until 2012 as part of an earlier deal struck by Martinez and the Bush administration.

When asked about his previous position favoring a ban on a larger swath of the Gulf, Bush grew testy.

"I could sit on the sidelines and say I'm for it, and that would be great. That's how politicians act," he told the Sentinel. "Or we could try to establish a long-term protection of our coastline, and I've opted to be engaged to try to protect Florida's coastline rather than be politically correct."

It was reported that Gov. Bush wrote Rep. Pombo [sponsor of the bill] just last Wednesday, saying that "Floridians cannot support your efforts if the Peterson-Abercrombie amendment [the portion of the bill that would open up the oil lease for drilling] remains a part of your bill."

OK, then.