As Florida pushes for an aircraft carrier, Virginia lawmakers fear offshore drilling could bolster their case

NORFOLK, Va. - The debate over where Navy aircraft carriers along the East Coast should be stationed continues and now the potential for offshore drilling is entering the fray.

In late January, Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson sent a letter asking for money to be included in the 2019 budget to support upgrades to Naval Station Mayport to allow a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to be stationed there.

The last aircraft carrier to call Florida home was the former USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67), a conventionally powered aircraft carrier during the 2000s.

Costly upgrades needed to permanently host a nuclear-powered carrier in Florida are a major reason the Navy has not moved a carrier there.

Now with the debate over opening the waters off Virginia to oil drilling continuing, lawmakers in Virginia fear that allowing drilling could benefit Florida's case.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said he plans to exempt Florida from the offshore drilling plan.

"Our new concern now is that if the state of Florida were to be held harmless from offshore drilling, which has been a request the president said he will grant them, then it would make an argument that it’s easier to perform those missions off the coast of Florida," Virginia Beach City Councilman John Uhrin told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo.

Lawmakers in Virginia point to a Department of Defense study that shows offshore drilling would likely severely impact military operations in Hampton Roads.

In a statement, Virginia Senator Mark Warner said “For decades, Norfolk has been the premiere homeport, a clear reflection of the world-class facilities found in the region. It would be unwise to jeopardize that by opening Virginia’s coast to offshore drilling that could potentially threaten military training and operations.”