Among the very few contested seats in Southwest Florida this November is Florida House District 76. In this race, environmental issues like fracking and water quality are playing a big role.
Incumbent state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, has spent just two years in office. In that time, he’s introduced a set of bills that have gotten a lot of attention.
Rodrigues has unsuccessfully pushed for bills aimed at getting oil and gas companies to disclose what chemicals they’re using when fracking. Another bill in that same set would conversely allow the companies to withhold information they deem trade secrets.
Environmentalists claimed the bill was an invitation for fracking in Florida. However, Rodrigues has said his work has been an effort to get laws on the books ahead of any possible fracking-- and a fracking-like incident near Lake Trafford in Collier County early this year has made the issue more pressing.
“What we’ve seen in Collier County, I believe, will give me the opportunity to put more in my bill beyond disclosure,” Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues said oil and gas laws currently on the books are antiquated and he’ll work to update them if re-elected. He said, in particular, he’ll update penalties and bonds.
“The current penalty, which is 25,000 dollars, may have been significant when the legislation was originally written back in the 60s or 70s, but what we see today is companies don’t even bat an eye at a fine of that amount,” Rodrigues explained.
Rodrigues’ Democratic opponent Charles Messina, who is running for this heavily Republican seat stretching throughout Bonita Springs, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel, said that’s not enough.
Messina, who is running on a clean water platform, said fracking should be banned in Florida.
“The process of fracking for oil and gas was designed for geology different than ours,” he said. “So, I would do an out and out ban here in Florida if the Legislature would go along with me. I would certainly introduce the bill.”
Messina also argues that Rodrigues’ bill, which would require companies disclose some of their chemicals to an existing online chemical disclosure registry called FracFocus instead of the state, is not proper regulation.
He also said fracking has had some negative consequences in parts of the country that are home to a lot of hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—as a means of natural gas extraction.
“I see that this fracking and the more and more that I see of it and hear of it, it’s just more and more bad news,” Messina said. “And yet, Mr. Rodrigues wants to go ahead and propose legislation yet again saying ‘we will make the fines larger and all of this.’ But, I just see it as a horrid practice.”
Both men also disagree on issues like Medicaid expansion. Messina argued it will help the state’s uninsured and create jobs. Rodrigues said he doesn’t think the state can trust the federal government will fund the expansion, even though it’s required by law.