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House Deepwater Horizon coordinator says no need for special session

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Lawmakers appear to have abandoned their earlier pledge to hold a special session on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in September and instead could possibly wait until the regular session in March.

Rep. Gary Aubuchon, the coordinator of the House’s five Deepwater Horizon oil spill work groups, has until Aug. 31 to give House Speaker Larry Cretul a report on possible legislation to help revive the Florida Panhandle economy or provide tax breaks to residents there. Aubuchon said Tuesday those suggestions probably won’t go to Cretul until sometime during the first week of September.

And although some Panhandle business owners have already shuttered operations and others are on the brink of doing the same because of plummeting revenues during their peak summer tourist season that coincided with the April 20 oil disaster, Aubuchon said early reports from his leaders show there’s no need to rush.

“We are continuing to ask the questions, attend the meetings, gather the data and looking for a productive role the state could play. Whether we begin to play that role in September, or November, or during the regular session is a question yet to be answered,” Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, said after meeting with Ken Feinberg, the claims czar who will take over BP’s problematic claims system on Monday at 12:01 a.m.

“One of the questions I’m asking each work group coordinator to answer is does anything you are working on now or anticipate working on necessitate the need for a special session? The early feedback I’m getting is no it does not,” Aubuchon said. “But the final conclusion has not been reached. And of course that is a decision that will be made by our presiding officers in the House and Senate.”

Even the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, whose members would probably benefit the most, is ok with holding off on a special session until after November.

Sen. Don Gaetz wants to pass a bill that would allow the FRLA to access up to $5 million of a trust fund comprised of fees paid by restaurant and hotel owners. There’s about $9 million in the trust fund, which is supposed to be earmarked for promotions.

FRLA President Carol Dover said she met with GOP legislative leaders last week.
“Coming into September with the group that are going to be gone or waiting until the organizational session with the group that are going to be bound by what they have passed could be a better way,” Dover said.

Lawmakers met in an aborted special session late in June after being ordered bv Gov. Charlie Crist to take up a constitutional amendment banning offshore drilling. They left in less than two hours without passing anything.

But before the special session even began, Senate President Jeff Atwater asked Cretul, R-Ocala, to consider a special session late in August or in September.

Atwater reiterated that hope yesterday.

The North Palm Beach Republican who is running statewide for chief financial officer believes lawmakers should meet within a month “to provide Floridians the assistance and relief that they need in the wake of this crisis,” Emhof said.

Crist to meet with Philippe Cousteau, tour Pensacola

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist is slated to meet with Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the oceanographer icon Jacques Cousteau, tomorrow before touring Pensacola by air and on the ground.

oily_fingersCousteau is carrying on the work of his legendary family as head of the non-profit EarthEcho International, an organization dedicated to protecting the planet’s waters.

Crist is also scheduled to fly over the Pensacola area with the state’s new incident commander, U.S. Coast Guard Commander Joe Boudrow, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole and Florida National Guard Major General Douglas Burnett. After the aerial tour, they’ll hit the beach on foot.

Obama halts all deep-water oil drilling, new estimates show four times more oil than thought gushing into Gulf

Thursday, May 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

gulf_oil_spill_jpeg_447171kPresident Barack Obama halted all deep-water oil drilling operations in the Gulf for the next six months or until a presidential commission co-chaired by former Florida U.S. Sen. Bob Graham completes its work.

Obama ordered the 33 deep-water rigs to stop drilling this afternoon as federal officials estimate that between 12,000 and 15,000 barrels of oil per day – up to four times more than previously thought – is gushing from the Deepwater Horizon well into the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez spill more than 20 years ago.

Obama refuted criticism that his administration has not responded quickly enough to the disaster but acknowledged more could have been done in at least two key areas, including the oil flow estimates.

“This is what I wake up to in the morning and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about. The spill,” Obama told reporters at a press conference this afternoon in Washington. “Those who think that we were either slow on our response or lacked urgency don’t know the facts. This has been our highest priority since this crisis occurred.”

But government officials should not have trusted BP’s estimates of how much oil was spewing from the well more than 5,000 feet below the sea level, Obama said.


Crist asks BP for $35 million for ad campaign to combat lies about Fla beaches

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist wants BP to give the state nearly $35 million for an ad campaign to lure tourists scared off by the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico back to the Sunshine State.

Crist asked BP to fork over $34.75 million – $10 million more than BP pledged to the state to offset initial clean-up and preparation costs – for a “marketing campaign to counter the negative, widespread and false information potential visitors to Florida are receiving about the oil spill’s impact on Florida’s beaches and waters,” the governor’s office said in a press release.

This morning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service incorrectly reported that tar balls had washed up on the beach in Destin. Not true, local officials said.

As Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s campaign staff pointed out, Sink (the Democratic candidate for governor) beat Crist to the punch this weekend by formally asking BP to pay for the ads. Sink also asked Crist earlier this week to get the federal SBA disaster loans to help out small businesses.

It’s been an oily week for the newly-independent governor and U.S. Senate so far, and it’s only Wednesday.

Crist, who is shortly going to officially abandon the Republican party by changing his voter registration, visited the Panhandle this weekend and took a leisurely ride with reporters on a charter fishing boat to spread the word to visitors that Florida’s beaches are beautiful, fish are biting and the water’s clean.

Also today, Crist asked federal officials for an economic injury disaster declaration for the 19 counties abutting the Gulf Coast from the Panhandle south to Sarasota so local businesses can get emergency loans to tide them over until BP fills their damage claims.

Tar balls on Destin beach? NO say local officials!

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010 by Dara Kam

“There are no tar balls here.”

That’s the first thing Okaloosa County director of public safety Dino Villani said this morning when we called after hearing news reports that the gooey blobs had finally made it to Florida’s Panhandle.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erroneously reported this morning that tar balls had washed up on Destin’s famous powder-white beaches, Villani said, setting off a phone frenzy in his office.

The massive oil spill is still more than 72 hours from Florida, state officials reported this morning, as BP tries to cap the 210,000-gallons gushing from the wrecked Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The absence of tar balls on Panhandle beaches is something everyone from Gov. Charlie Crist down to Destin charter boat fishing captains have been advertising to try to convince tourists to “Come on down” to the Sunshine State, unfold their wallets and and boost the economy as the peak of the Panhandle tourist season kicks off.

Tar balls on Florida beaches for possibly years

Friday, May 7th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Tar balls could be washing up on Florida’s beaches for years, Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole told reporters on a conference call today.

But that’s not so bad, Sole said, because the gooey blobs are easier to clean up than the viscous crude oil now pumping out of the Deepwater Horizon rig off Louisiana’s coastline.

The oil sheen is about 60 miles South of the state’s now-pristine Panhandle beaches and is not expected to reach Florida’s coast until Tuesday, Sole said.

What kind of damage the state will suffer depends on how quickly BP officials cap the oil spewing into the Gulf, now at about 5,000 gallons per day.

Over time, waves and the content of the ocean will shrink the oil slick by up to 60 percent and harden it into tar balls, Sole, a biologist, said.

“That’s a good thing,” he said.

Florida might escape significant impacts of the spill but because of the voluminous amount of oil flowing out of the leak – more than 200,000 gallons per day since the April 20 blast – “we may see tar balls over months and years to come,” Sole said.
“But a lot of that depends on how effective they are at capping the discharge.”

BP is erecting a concrete box around the leak and is battling the slick with fire, dispersants and skimmers.

“However, at 5,000 barrels a day, unless they eliminate that, my fear is we will see greater impact than just tar balls,” Sole said.

UPDATE: BP pledges 2-day turnaround on claims

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum said that British Petroleum executives promised to pay claims within two days and agreed to put in writing their commitment to pay all costs associated with the massive oil spill circulating in the Gulf of Mexico.

McCollum and the attorneys general of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama yesterday pressed the oil giant to put on paper its pledge to fund damages for the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil blast still spewing hundreds of thousands of oil daily into the Gulf.

“BP has assured us it will do whatever it takes to make our states and their citizens whole, and I encourage them to continue working diligently to make the claims process expedient and efficient so our citizens and businesses can see immediate relief,” McCollum, running in a GOP primary for governor, said in a statement.

Federal law requires that business owners and others impacted by the oil spill file claims with the “responsible party” before pursuing other litigation.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is also demanding that BP do a better job handling claims and communicating with coastal businesses.

BP promised McCollum and the other attorneys general it would put in writing their commitment to cover all costs of the incident – which they are bound to do under federal law – “without regard to any potentially applicable
statutory caps on recoveries,” McCollum said in a statement.

BP gave the states $25 million each to help defray the costs of preparing for the spill and set up a toll-free number for claims, 800-440-0858.

McCollum and his colleagues also asked for the same commitment in writing from Halliburton and Transocean, the other companies involved in the drilling operation off the coast of Louisiana.

Sink not happy. C’mon, BP, this is how you run a business?

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

seashoreAfter spending another full day in the Panhandle meeting with President Barack Obama administration officials, BP executives and local business owners, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink got some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that BP claims adjusters on the ground in Pensacola have the authority to approve up to $5,000 for business owners like charter fishing boat captains who’ve lost money because of the oil spill slowly making its way through the Gulf of Mexico.

And Mobile Unified Command leaders cut some of the red tape that’s stymied local governments’ ability to prepare for the disaster. The Unified Command gave Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole the ability to by-pass the command center and give the direct OK for distribution of the $25 million block grant BP awarded the state earlier this week.

But Sink, the likely Democratic candidate for governor, remains distressed by unanswered questions regarding the claims process and BP’s apparent inability to clear up the lines of communication between the oil giant and those seeking redress.

“Without a doubt my greatest concern is the fact that many businesses and particularly the charter fishing industry who I heard from today…have already been fairly severely impacted by the spill in terms of lost business income,” Sink said.

Sink, McCollum step up pressure on big oil over spill

Thursday, May 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

29354286tChief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum, likely to face off in the November gubernatorial election, are growing more frustrated with BP’s apparent lackadaisical approach to the impending financial crisis headed toward Florida in the shape of an oil blob.

Sink, a Democrat, sent a letter to the oil giant’s president of American operations Lamar McKay asking him to put her in touch with a BP exec who can make decisions.

McCollum, a Republican, and the attorneys general of the other Gulf states, want President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to create a federal-state work group to coordinate lawsuits coming out of the massive oil spill.

BP has given Florida $25 million to pay for initial clean-up and preparation costs and has pledged more.

“We recognize that BP has stated publicly that it will live up to its obligation to pay all claims arising from this environmental and economic disaster. We hope that BP will. But we would be remiss in our responsibilities if we did not consider the possibility that enforcement or litigation efforts may be required in the future,” McCollum and the AG’s of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi wrote in a letter today.

McCollum and Sink traveled several times to the oil spill command center in Mobile to make sure Florida’s needs are being addressed.

Sink, who said she there’s a communication breakdown among the top brass handling the disaster, is putting BP on the spot. (more…)

Sink: ‘Time’s a’wasting.’ Says ‘confusion’ gumming up coastal protection efforts

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink had some harsh words for the Mobile Unified Command unit charged with coordinating response to the mammoth oil spill spreading through the Gulf of Mexico.

sink-eoc“I’m not personally satisfied with the way the communication is occurring. There seem to be breakdowns between the EOCs and the Mobile Unified Command,” Sink, the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor, told reporters early Monday evening. “There’s still a lot of confusion.”

Sink visited the Mobile, Ala., center and toured the spill about 20 miles off the Louisiana coast this afternoon.

“I must say that what I saw out there was alarming…This certainly is the largest risk to Florida’s economy in our state’s history,” Sink said.

Sink said she wants BP officials to immediately set up a cash fund for local governments, business owners and Floridians affected by the spill to access to help offset their costs.

BP is responsible for picking up the tab for clean-up of the spill but federal law caps the oil giant’s liability at $75 million.

“From my business experience, it sounds like too many steps in the process and too much bureaucracy,” she said.

“This is a multi-state problem. The federal government has to be very aggressive and attentive and right on top of BP to assure that we aren’t just having days and days of delays…Times a’wasitng. This kind of decision-making has got to be expedited and I do plan to talk to the federal administration about ensuring that BP is not dragging their heels,” Sink said.

BP too slow on oil spill? Crist says state needs to move: ‘We can send them a bill.’

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

State officials are preparing for what could be the nation’s worst oil spill in recent history to reach Florida shores.

But Gov. Charlie Crist said he is worried about whether the corporation responsible for the disaster is doing everything it can Florida.

Under federal law created after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, BP is responsible for the cleanup and mitigation of the rapidly growing oil leak, now more than 600 miles in circumference, looming off Florida’s Panhandle coastline.

“But my concern is we need to be a responsible country…We can send them a bill later,” Crist told reporters at a noon briefing at state emergency operations headquarters. “It creates a significant concern that the party who created the problem is now the party that’s responsible for solving the problem. I get that. That’s why I’m here.”

Crist expands state of emergency south to Sarasota

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Much of Florida’s west coast is under a state of emergency due to the massive oil spill now less than 50 miles from the Panhandle.

Gov. Charlie Crist expanded the state of emergency beyond the Panhandle to include the Big Bend and Tampa Bay areas.

Franklin, Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor, Dixie, Levy, Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota are now under a state of emergency.

Florida emergency management officials have geared up operations at the state EOC where BP representatives are also on the ground.

BP has hired contractors to lay boom along estuaries and inlets in the Pensacola Bay area but won’t place them along the shoreline, Department of Environmental Protection Phil Wieczynski chief of emergency response said.

“We’re not expecting Exxon-Valdez waves of oil to hit the state of Florida over this spill,” he said.

Instead, Florida’s beaches will likely suffer from light sheen, staining, and tar balls and matts that could be yards long, Wieczynski predicted.

“It might be intermittent, it might be in one county and not the next one,” he said.

‘Daunting’ oil spill will wind up in court, AG says; BP pledges to pick up tab

Monday, May 3rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida officials are ramping up preparation for the massive oil spill looming off the state’s Panhandle coastline.

“The magnitude of this spill is daunting,” state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole said at a press conference early this morning.

oil-locationsAttorney General Bill McCollum warned Floridians not to sign anything releasing BP or other companies associated with the oil leak and to ignore “scammers” who promise to clean up affected areas.

“There is a great concern on our part with people who may go out in advance of any oil coming at all and try to get some hold harmeless agreement, either BP or some other potentially liable party,” McCollum said. “We also don’t’ want anybody to get ripped off by scam artists.”


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