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Allison Graves
By Allison Graves January 12, 2018

Was Ron DeSantis the 'deciding' vote against the state's right to protect Florida's coast?

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham called out her newest Republican opponent Ron DeSantis for going to bat for oil drilling off Florida’s coast.

Her Jan. 4 tweet came as the White House prepared to announce a new offshore drilling plan that originally included Florida among states that would see expanded drilling. (The White House later walked it back to exempt Florida at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott.)

When DeSantis had the opportunity to keep drilling out of Florida, Graham said, he went against it.

"In Congress, @RonDeSantisFL was the DECIDING vote AGAINST our state's right to protect Florida waters from drilling," Graham tweeted. "Will Congressman DeSantis stand up for Florida or is he too scared of losing @realDoanldTramp's endorsement?"

The tweet included a link to a close vote on a 2013 amendment to the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act (HR 2231), which never became law.

Was DeSantis, whose district includes several east coast beaches, really "the deciding vote" on an effort to keep drilling out of the state?

The short answer: It’s hard to say there is ever such a thing as "the deciding vote" with close calls in Congress. 

DeSantis’ stance on drilling

DeSantis’ specific position on drilling is squishy. Most recently, DeSantis embraced Scott's opposition to Trump's plan.

"In Florida our coastline is so important to our economy, it’s important to property values, it’s important to tourism," DeSantis said on Fox & Friends. "And we need to protect our coastline."

Other actions speak to support for the coast, including a December 2015 letter to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management against seismic airgun exploration and a letter in opposition to the 2017 Interior Department executive order that advanced offshore oil and gas exploration in the Atlantic Ocean.  

There’s also his vote in favor of a failed amendment that would have banned seismic testing in areas bordering Florida. He was one of 24 Republicans to vote for the testing ban. He also voted for a Graham amendement that would have restricted funds being used for the research, investigation, or study of offshore drilling. 

But that's not to say that DeSantis has always voted against drilling. 

DeSantis' down vote

The 210-209 vote in Graham's tweet happened years earlier.

In the summer of 2013, then-U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, proposed an amendment to the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act pushed by House Republicans. The larger bill aimed to expand U.S. offshore energy production by directing the U.S. Interior Department secretary to implement a five-year oil and gas leasing program off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Grayson’s amendment would have ensured the ability of Florida or any state to prohibit the use of drilling within its boundaries. At the time, Grayson said the amendment would have avoided the possibility of the federal government overriding states' rights to decide.

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When it came to a vote, Grayson’s amendment failed by one vote, and DeSantis voted against the amendment. The larger bill passed the House but did move past the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Does that mean he was the "deciding vote?"

There’s no doubt that DeSantis’ vote was crucial. But as we have concluded in fact-checks of similar attacks, the "deciding vote" label could just as easily be applied to any other lawmaker who voted on his side — making the term a bit meaningless. (Many Democrats were attacked as being the deciding vote on the narrowly passed Affordable Care Act, for example.)

That’s the general rule. We wondered if DeSantis did anything to justify being singled out, such as holding his support until the last moment.

We couldn’t spot from C-SPAN footage whether DeSantis was one of the members who changed his mind at the literal last minute. Even if he were, however, he would not have been the only lawmaker to do so.

Graham spokesman Matt Harringer argued it is noteworthy that DeSantis was in the minority of Florida Republicans who voted against this amendment. Seven Florida Republicans, including DeSantis, voted against the amendment, while nine Republicans voted for the amendment.

Is Grayson’s amendment significant?

DeSantis’ team didn’t argue his vote, but they did take issue with Graham’s framing of the measure as a vote "against our state’s right to protect Florida waters from drilling."

Many Republicans didn’t see it that way, arguing Grayson’s measure would not have actually changed Florida’s control of its coast.

"Since the underlying bill did nothing to alter the existing relationship between the federal and state governments, the amendment itself contained no substantive policy that would have changed the ability of Florida to prevent development of waters within its jurisdiction," said DeSantis spokeswoman Elizabeth Fusick.

Fusick said the balance of power between the federal and state government was already determined by the Submerged Lands Act (which sets federal government ownership of submerged lands after the first three miles from the state’s coast) and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (which also applies to land beyond three miles offshore), which were both enacted in 1953.

Holly Parker, the Florida regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, said that if Grayson’s amendment only applied to state waters, then it would seem to be a duplication of an existing right. However, she said it’s possible that the broader failed legislation would have changed that.  

"Now, if the underlying legislation somehow impeded those state rights and this amendment was an attempt to clarify or delineate the rights of a state to regulate those submerged (lands), that would be different," Parker said.

Athan Manuel, the director of the Sierra Club’s Land’s Protection Program, said he thinks it's possible that the bill could have changed the separation of powers. Regardless, he said, the point of Grayson’s amendment was to be "extra clear" that Florida had a say in what happened.

"Maybe it wasn’t as necessary, but it's important to send the right message," Manuel said. "If he wanted to vote against drilling, he should have voted for the Grayson amendment."

Our ruling

Graham said DeSantis casted the "deciding vote against" the state's right to protect Florida waters from drilling.

There’s no question that DeSantis’ vote on an amendment to the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act was crucial, but saying DeSantis was the deciding vote goes too far. Technically, any of the 209 other people who voted against the bill could be considered the "deciding vote."

Furthermore, the significance of Grayson’s amendment is a subject of debate. Democrats saw it as securing Florida’s right to protect Florida waters, whereas Republicans say the amendment wouldn’t have changed the powers of the state.

With everything considered, we rate this claim Half True.

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Half True
"In Congress, @RonDeSantisFL was the DECIDING vote AGAINST our state's right to protect Florida waters from drilling."
in a Tweet
Thursday, January 4, 2018

Our Sources

Interview, Graham spokesman Matt Harringer, Jan. 8, 2018

Email exchange, DeSantis spokeswoman Elizabeth Fusick, Jan. 8, 2018

Email exchange, former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, Jan. 8, 2018

Email exchange, Donald Wolfensberger, former Republican staffer on the House Rules Committee and now a scholar on Congress at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Jan. 10, 2018

Email interview, Government Affairs Institute senior fellow Joshua Huder, Jan. 9, 2018

Email interview, Holly Parker, the Florida regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation, Jan. 11, 2018

Interview, Athan Manuel, Director of the lands projection program for the Sierra Club, Jan. 11, 2018

H.R. 2231


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