Either Bill Nelson has been standing too close to Charlie Crist, or his memory is beginning to go south. Or, more probably, he just doesn’t think you’ll notice. The point is, when it comes to offshore drilling, Florida’s senior senator has developed a conspicuous case of the flip-flops.

Nelson is out there telling the world he’s a “career-long opponent of offshore drilling.” He recently put out a 900-word press release with a timeline outlining his supposed opposition.

Except the timeline conveniently omits his 2010 support for an Obama Administration plan to expand offshore drilling off the Florida coast.

That’s right, party leader Barack Obama said, let’s do more offshore drilling and Nelson hopped on the wagon quicker than a tick on a hound.

Now he’s trying to explain it away — but it’s right there, in black and white. He only dropped his endorsement of the Obama offshore drilling expansion plan after the president did — after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded.

Here’s why Nelson felt it necessary to produce his (skewed) timeline:

Facing reelection this November, the senator was “fuming” last week after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he was reversing plans to open up Florida’s coast to drilling and said the decision was made at the urging of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, his possible November opponent.

Grandstand alert: Nelson took to the Senate floor to call the announcement a “political stunt” and brag that he’s been fighting offshore drilling since he was in the House of Representatives in the 1980s. He told Zinke in a letter he’s “fought to keep drilling away from Florida’s coasts for decades now” and put out a separate statement to reporters portraying himself as the last line of defense for the coasts.

“There are no oil rigs off Florida’s coast, and as long as I’m around there will not be,” Nelson said. “We’ve been at this battle now three decades, ever since I was congressman.”

But wait right there for a minute.

A peek into the New York Times archives unearths Nelson’s flip-flop. In 2010 he shocked environmentalists when he threw his support behind the Obama administration proposal for drilling 125 miles from Florida and reasoned away the factors he earlier considered “concerns.”

“I’ve talked many times to [Interior Department] Secretary [Ken] Salazar and told him if they drilled too close to Florida’s beaches they’d be risking the state’s economy and the environment,” Nelson said on March 31, 2010, according to the St. Petersburg Times. “I believe this plan shows they heeded that concern.”

He defended his reversal by pointing to an agreement from a former state environment official.

“Also okay with the deal is former Florida DEP chief Carol Browner, now assistant to the president for energy and climate change,” Nelson said at the time. “She said in a conference call that the 125-mile buffer is good protection for the state.”

The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported environmentalists felt “betrayed” by Nelson.

“For most of the past decade Sen. Bill Nelson has been a leader in repelling attempts to drill for oil off Florida,” the paper wrote. “But on Wednesday, just as Obama announced plans to allow rigs 125 miles from Sarasota — 100 miles closer than currently allowed — Nelson gave his tacit approval to the deal.”

“That was the real surprise,” said Environment Florida’s Adam Rivera. “I have never seen the membership of my organization so upset. They are angry at President Obama, and those who are aware that Senator Nelson apparently supports President Obama’s plan, feel betrayed.”

Nelson’s office told reporters the senator was part of the planning process and convinced the White House to adopt a 125-mile buffer zone, which he believed was enough to protect Florida from ecological impacts.

Unfortunately, exactly three weeks after Nelson announced his support for the drilling plan came the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Though it was located more than 125 miles from the coast, the oil reached the Florida coast.

The Obama administration responded by rescinding its March proposal to allow for new drilling in the Gulf. Nelson had signaled to the administration after the spill that he no longer could support the plan.

Asked for comment on the senator’s 2010 support for Obama’s plan to open up drilling off Florida’s coast, Nelson’s Senate office now is denying he ever supported the plan.

“He’s never endorsed such a plan,” said Ryan Brown, Nelson’s communications director. “Sen. Nelson has been fighting to keep oil rigs away from Florida’s coast his entire life.”

Asked again, he repeated it — Nelson never supported offshore drilling.

If you lie with a straight face long enough, people will stop challenging you. It’s a political tactic as old as the dawn of time. Nelson is counting on Floridians forgetting all about 2010. Fake flip-flop, he says.


Reach Nancy Smith at [email protected] or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith. The Senate Leadership Fund helped with information for this piece.

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