Across Florida
What's happening on other political blogs?

oil spill’

McCollum ‘cautiously optimistic’ after meeting with BP claims czar

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum said he is “cautiously optimistic” after an hour-and-a-half long meeting with BP claims czar Ken Feinberg in the Capitol this morning.

Claimants throughout the Gulf Coast have complained that little has changed since Feinberg, appointed by the White House and BP to dole out $20 billion the oil giant is putting into the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, took over BP’s much-maligned claims process more than three weeks ago.

McCollum has repeatedly criticized Feinberg’s system, still in development even after he has written more than $40 million in checks to Floridians for losses caused by BP’s April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast and ensuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Feinberg’s paid an average of $7,195 in emergency payments to nearly 5,600 Floridians since taking over on Aug. 23.

One of the most contentious issues facing Florida thus far has been Feinberg’s emphasis on “proximity” to the oil spill in determining eligibility for claims and questions about whether perceptions about Florida’s beaches being oily (even when they were not) contributed to a drop in tourism that affected hotels, restaurants and state tax collections.


Sink (and Crist) bold move over languishing oil spill claims: Write a letter!

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010 by Dara Kam

After hearing that not a single business on Pensacola Beach has received a dime from BP claims czar Ken Feinberg in nearly a month, Chief Financial Officer proposed sending (another) letter to Feinberg urging him to get on it.

“This is just not right,” Sink, the Democrat running for governor against Republican Rick Scott, said before the Cabinet heard an update on the oil spill at this morning’s Cabinet meeting.

Sink suggested ordering Feinberg to show up at the next Cabinet meeting to explain why he hasn’t followed through on his earlier pledge to quickly process claims to help out Panhandle residents whose businesses have floundered since the April 20th Deepwater Horizon disaster. Or, she said, the Cabinet could write a letter to Feinberg urging him to take action. Sink has made repeated requests in writing to Feinberg, BP officials and others demanding they speed up payments to floundering businesses in the Panhandle threatening to shut down because of the spill.

Gov. Charlie Crist agreed to sign on to Sink’s letter to try to get some help to Floridians, especially those in the Panhandle.

“It’s become increasingly difficult for them to be able to hang on,” Crist, the independent candidate in the three-way race for U.S. Senate said.

Attorney General Bill McCollum, whose office has been out front dealing with Feinberg and BP throughout response to the disaster, is supposed to meet with Feinberg this week. McCollum was in Pensacola attending the federal hearing on his lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s administration over health care reforms.

Oil panel boiling mad over BP claims czar’s broken promises

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

BP oil spill claims czar Ken Feinberg, hired by the oil giant and President Barack Obama to hand out $20 billion to individuals and businesses impacted by the massive oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, overpromised and underdelivered, state officials and others said today.

Feinberg took over BP’s maligned claims process on Aug. 23, pledging he would “bend over backwards” to help claimants get emergency six-month payments to help them cope with the financial woes many have encountered since the April 20 disaster.

Feinberg last appeared before Gov. Charlie Crist’s Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force last month and left even skeptical members of the panel, including Department of Children and Families Secretary George Sheldon, with high hopes that the Boston lawyer would fix BP’s botched claims system.

But Feinberg’s new process, called the “Gulf Coast Claims Facility,” is leaving a lot to be desired, many of the panelists discovered Tuesday.

“I never thought I’d say this but part of me would like BP back,” said Sheldon, who was one of the oil company’s harshest critics before Feinberg took over. “What he articulated to all of us was something totally different than what’s in this protocol.”

The panel is demanding that Feinberg appear before them again and plans to confront him with a transcript of what he said he would do, like allow a priest to verify that information in a claim was accurate, and what they hear is taking place.

UPDATE: It’s official: Oil spill special session off the table

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Senate President Jeff Atwater called to clarify his position on the decision not to hold a special session on oil spill-related issues. Here’s what he had to say:

“I haven’t changed my mind on anything. I don’t know how I could have tried any harder,” Atwater said about the House’s decision that a special session is unnecessary this year. He said a special session is both “timely and necessary.”

There’s no need for a special session to address the fall-out from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast that pumped millions of gallons of hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico, House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater have decided.

Despite earlier promises that lawmakers would convene as early as September to try to give a helping hand to fishermen and others in the Panhandle whose finances have crumbled in the aftermath of the April 20 disaster, the pair are convinced those issues can wait until the regular session next year in March.

“It would appear that while there are some issues where legislative action may be appropriate, there are no issues that require immediate formal legislative action. Additionally, there are several areas where it is clear that we do not yet possess the information necessary to make informed decisions. Moreover, many of these issues require solutions that would benefit from closer scrutiny during a regular legislative session,” Cretul, R-Ocala, wrote to House members today.

Atwater, who is running statewide for chief financial officer, apparently agreed although he had previously pushed the House to come back early.

Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said he asked his select committee “to continue developing proposals, gathering data, and working with incoming leadership in preparation for the next session” in a memo to the his members today.

Sink joins McCollum in demand for revamp of BP claims czar process

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink wants oil disaster claims czar Ken Feinberg to revamp his process for paying individuals and business owners who say BP’s massive oil disaster caused them to lose revenues or suffer other damages.

Sink, who traveled frequently to the Panhandle to meet with Feinberg and business owners who’s claims languished in BP’s hands, and fellow Cabinet member Attorney General Bill McCollum both accuse Feinberg of creating a process that’s less friendly to oil spill victims than federal law.

Feinberg has “taken an extremely restrictive view as to who is eligible for recovery,” Sink, a Democrat who is the presumptive nominee for governor, wrote to Feinberg today, the kick-off of his Gulf Coast Claims Facility that will handle the claims.

“In my opinion, the GCCF rules must be rewritten in favor of those who were harmed by this catastrophe, as opposed to those who caused it,” Sink wrote.


Florida Realtors get $16 million for oil spill losses

Monday, August 23rd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Florida Realtors will divvy up $16 million to cover lost sales in the aftermath of the April 20th Deepwater Horizon rig blast and ensuing massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida’s sharing in about $60 million claims czar Ken Feinberg set aside for real estate agents and brokers although they would not be eligible for claims under state or federal law.

He’s already given property owners the bad news that they’ll likely get nada from the $20 billion fund set up by BP to cover losses caused by the spill.

Each of the Gulf Coast states’ real estate associations will dole out the funds to realtors.

Florida Realtors, the state association representing realtors, hired Indiana-based claims adjustment firm NCA to handle the claims and administer the funds, according to press release issued by the association.

Feinberg, who took over BP’s botched claims system at 12:01 a.m this morning, has said that realtors were the loudest group making a pitch for how the oil disaster made an already sluggish real estate market even worse.

Feinberg’s in charge of administering the $20 billion fund BP set up to pay for losses and injuries caused by the disaster. BP will put the money into the Gulf Coast Claims Facility account over four years.

Feinberg said the first checks to individuals filing claims will go out by Wednesday and within a week for businesses.

Oil spill claims czar refutes McCollum criticism that new claims system worse than BP’s for victims

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Ken Feinberg, who’s’ taking over BP’s troubled claims system at midnight, rejects Attorney General Bill McCollum’s contention that the new claims czar’s expedited emergency payment system is worse than BP’s.

“No good deed goes unpunished,” Feinberg said today on a conference call with reporters when asked about McCollum’s critique.

Feinberg said he expects a flood of applications when the Gulf Coast Claims Facility goes online at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

The lawyer, hired by BP and President Barack Obama, received high marks for his handling of the compensation fund for victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks but is under fire for vague guidelines about how he will dole out the $20 billion BP has pledged for Gulf Coast individuals and businesses who’ve lost money and jobs since the April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Feinberg has yet to reveal how much money he’s being paid to take over the claims system and won’t release internal documents detailing how BP’s adjusters have been retrained to handle claims.

Some Panhandle business owners waited for months without getting any payment from the oil giant for their losses and those who did receive checks had no idea how the amount was derived or what time period it covered.

Feinberg is using “proximity,” or how close claimants are in relation to where oil washed up on the beach, as one factor in deciding who gets paid. That’s more onerous than federal law, McCollum complained in a letter on Friday.

Feinberg says his system gives claimants a free review of how they would fare in court.

“It’s truly a free preview. Nobody is obligated to come into this program and accept the award unless they voluntarily reach a conclusion that it’s in their interest,” Feinberg said.

Atwater blasts BP claims czar remarks as ‘dismissive’ of needy Floridians

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Senate President Jeff Atwater called BP claims czar Ken Feinberg’s observation that things appear to be back to normal in the Panhandle premature and “dismissive of Floridians.”

Atwater, who’s running for chief financial officer against Democrat Loranne Ausley, issued a press release in response to a story today in The Palm Beach Post in which Feinberg said that Northwest Florida fishermen may not be eligible for the full six months of emergency payments other businesses may be entitled to when he takes over BP’s maligned claims system at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

“Despite incomplete data about the threats facing the people of our state, Ken Feinberg was quoted today saying that ‘I’m watching on TV. The beaches look fabulous.’ These remarks came as he seemed dismissive of Floridians who are seeking financial relief. Understanding the serious problems facing Floridians along the Gulf takes more than watching television, and our beaches are not the only place in Florida facing the threat,” Atwater said in a statement issued by his campaign.

Feinberg, appointed by BP and President Barack Obama to handle claims for individuals and businesses harmed by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil blast, made his remarks at a meeting in Pensacola on Tuesday, the same day several academic institutions refuted federal officials’ contention that most of the oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico has disappeared.

“Our state has a unique and precious marine ecosystem, and scientists are still reporting that this ecosystem is in trouble. Just today, some of the best and brightest researchers at the University of South Florida said between 70 and 79 percent of all the oil that was spilled is under the surface and still causing ecological damage,” Atwater wrote. “For BP or the federal government to cut and run now would only create another catastrophe.”

Feds send economic development teams to Florida to help oil spill recovery

Monday, August 16th, 2010 by Dara Kam

President Barack Obama’s administration has dispatched two teams to Florida to help the state recovery from the economic downturn caused by BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today announced he is spending $600,000 on 21 economic development teams to the Gulf Coast states, including Florida, impacted by the spill.

The teams, made up of business leaders, government officials and economists, will “conduct in-depth analyses of critical issues” faced by communities like those in the Pensacola region that have seen tourism drop by up to 40 percent in the aftermath of the spill.

The teams will offer recommendations for how to help revive the economy, according to a press release issued by the White House.

Information about where the Florida teams will be located was not available.

One University of Central Florida economist estimated that the oil spill may cost Florida up to $22 billion in lost tourism revenues.

At an economic roundtable in Metairie, La., Locke announced $31.3 million total in coastal restoration and economic development grants for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

“These grants are another sign of this administration’s commitment to help the Gulf Coast’s economy and environment recover in the wake of the BP oil spill,” Locke said.

Locke also announced a $30.7 million restoration grant to the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration by the Department of Commerce’s NOAA to fund the restoration of a critical barrier headland near Port Fourchon, La.

BP claims administrator-to-be Feinberg returns to Panhandle

Friday, August 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Ken Feinberg, hired by President Barack Obama and BP to take over the troubled claims process, will return to the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday.

Feinberg will meet with business owners and others in Panama City Beach and Pensacola.

Feinberg’s likely to get an earful from local business owners dismayed to discover this weekend that BP has stopped making payments for lost sales in May because oil had not yet landed on Panhandle beaches.

And he’ll probably hear even more grousing about the delays in payments like the three months it took for one Pensacola Beach business owner to get about half what he estimates he lost in sales during May, June and July.

BP initiated an “Immediate Action Claims Team” over the weekend to expedite payments to businesses.

But adjusters or even operators at the “Immediate Actions Claims Team” hotline were unaware of the program when called earlier this week.

Feinberg was tapped in mid-June to take over the claims process for individuals and businesses and dole out the $20 billion BP will put into an escrow fund for Gulf state claims.

BP has yet to make the first payment into the fund, which it will build up over three-and-a-half years, but Feinberg said he’s confident the money will be there when he takes over sometime later this month.

Feinberg will first make six-month emergency payments to cash-strapped businesses and individuals impacted by the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast and ensuing massive oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

But he’s struggling to establish a protocol – which he’s revised more than nine times so far – to define who should get paid and how much.

BP VP of operations Darryl Willis, in charge of the claims system until Feinberg takes the helm, said his company has received claims from 48 states.

The Panhandle events are open to the public but RSVP’s are required. Those interested in attending can contact the Bay County Chamber of Commerce 850-785-5206 or the Pensacola Bay Chamber of Commerce 850-438-4081 by 4 p.m. Monday to reserve a seat.

Gelber strikes back at Aronberg in attorney general race TV ad

Friday, August 6th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dan Gelber gets defensive in his first television ad in the race against fellow senator Dave Aronberg in the Democratic attorney general primary.

With absentee voting already underway, Gelber, a Miami Beach lawyer and former federal prosecutor, highlights his years in the courtroom and accuses Aronberg of “political games” and “dishonest attacks” in a series of mailers in which Aronberg accuses Gelber of a potential conflict of interest. Aronberg’s made a big issue out of Gelber’s former law firm going to work for BP to defend the oil giant in any Florida lawsuits.

Take a $250 shopping spree courtesy of BP

Monday, August 2nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Tourists who book three nights or more in a Walton County beach hotel between now and Sept. 30 will get a $250 voucher for Southwest Airlines or $250 gift card for the Silver Sands outlet mall in Sandestin, all on BP’s dime.

The promotion will be paid out of the $7 million BP gave Panhandle tourism boards to help lure visitors back to the region where tourism has taken a nosedive in the aftermath of the massive Deepwater Horizon oil leak.

Tar blotches and oil stains impacted all but 1.5 miles of the 26-mile stretch of sugar white beaches in Walton Count and resulted in a 7 percent drop in bed tax collections in June and a 3 percent reduction in May, according to Dawn Moliterno, head of the region’s tourism development council, Beaches of South Walton.

The $7 million will be divided between the seven Florida tourism councils most directly impacted by the oil spill. Escambia and Santa Rosa counties will receive $700,000; the seven councils will split 14 percent of the $7 million and the rest will be distributed based on the amount of bed tax each of the councils collects. The tourism officials have to spend the money by Sept. 30, when all promotional programs must end, Moliterno said.

Moliterno’s council paid the most of the bunch last year – nearly $1.7 million and so will get a bigger slice of the BP marketing money.

The TDCs are excited about the new fund because they have control over how the money will be spent, unlike the $25 million for marketing BP gave the state earlier in the summer.

Moliterno thinks the vouchers will be great for the local economy because visitors will spread the cash around to businesses other than hotels.

“We know if we can get people here we know we can get them to support the community,” Moliterno said.

She gave BP credit for “putting the money into motion.”

Aronberg calls Gelber request for attorney general debates ‘political stunt’ but says yes…if

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010 by Dara Kam

State Sen. Dave Aronberg agreed to his colleague Sen. Dan Gelber’s request for debates before the primary election…sort of.

Aronberg and Gelber are in a heated Democratic primary for attorney general, and Aronberg’s taken off the gloves and attacked his opponent for Gelber’s former law firm’s representation of BP.

Gelber says he resigned from Akerman Senterfitt, the state’s largest law firm that recently was retained by BP, days before Aronberg demanded it.

Gelber then sent Aronberg a letter asking for 11 debates before the Aug. 24 primary.

Aronberg responded today calling a request for that many debates – nearly three a week – a “political stunt” and dragging BP into the debate arena.

“The next Attorney General will probably spend the better part of this decade involved in litigation of the state versus BP, Halliburton and other parties who might share liability for this disaster. Therefore, as we work together to agree on our debate schedule, I want to insist that at least one of the debates be held there so the citizens of that region can hear our plans for fighting for them as their Attorney General,” Aronberg wrote in a letter to Gelber.

Aronberg also agreed to a debate outside of South Florida, home to both Democrats, in Tampa Bay or Orlando.

McCollum compares Rick Scott to BP’s Tony Hayward

Monday, July 26th, 2010 by George Bennett

UPDATED with reaction from Scott’s campaign at the end….
FORT LAUDERDALE — Reacting to reports that spill-tarnished BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward is stepping down, Attorney General and GOP governor candidate Bill McCollum took a shot at Republican primary rival Rick Scott.

Scott took a severance package from Columbia/HCA after it came under a Medicare fraud investigation that ended with the hospital chain paying $1.7 billion in fines after Scott left.

Said McCollum on his way into a Florida Sheriff’s Association lunch:

“BP has caused this problem. Hayward did it under his watch. He’s responsible for it. And there’s some similarities here to, actually, to Rick Scott. You know, the CEO of a company has responsibility for what happens on their watch, just like the captain of a ship does. And I’m not surprised that Tony Hayward was basically forced to resign…

“Rick Scott was also forced to resign when his company got in trouble with over 50 of his hospitals being raided by the FBI. And we all know the results of that huge criminal thing that happened out there, whether he knew it or he didn’t know it. Very similar relationship between the two of them, ironically.”

The Scott campaign’s Jennifer Baker offered this response:

“Most people look at the oil spill and see a tragedy, Bill McCollum sees a political opportunity. Floridians are looking for someone like Rick Scott who will solve problems, not see what he can get out of them.”

Sink seeks clarification from Feinberg on BP claimants’ promise not to sue

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink wants Ken Feinberg, appointed by President Barack Obama to administer the BP oil spill claims process, to clarify whether individuals and businesses seeking payment from the oil giant must promise not to sue BP in the future.

Sink’s letter comes on the heels of a scathing analysis of Feinberg’s claims process – revamped nine times since he started the take-over late last month – by a Florida legal dream team tapped by Gov. Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum.

One of the legal eagles’ chief worries is Feinberg’s requirement that anyone seeking a lump-sum settlement from BP waive their right to sue – long before the full impact from the devastating oil leak are known.

“With millions of gallons of oil discharged in the Gulf of Mexico, the people who live and work along the Gulf Coast cannot know with any certainty today what the full extent of their damages may be in the future. In order to ensure that the claims process is fair, the payment of any Floridian’s claim, including a final claim, should not be conditioned on the waiver of the claimant’s rights under state or federal law,” Sink, a Democrat running for governor, wrote to Feinberg today.

Former attorneys general Jim Smith and Bob Butterworth sent a letter to Crist and McCollum this week outlining their concerns with Feinberg’s process, chief among them his aim to give BP “total peace” regarding payouts.

“While the current BP claims process has been fraught with delays and has failed to adequately compensate the many victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we are concerned that the process that is about to replace it has the potential to harm the citizens of the Gulf Region as profoundly and deeply as the spill itself,” Smith and Butterworth wrote.

2004 flashback: Dems John Kerry, Bob Graham OK with drilling in ‘deep water’ of gulf

Monday, July 12th, 2010 by George Bennett



Former Florida Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham, a co-chair of the presidential commission that began hearings on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill today in New Orleans, has a long record of opposing drilling off the coast of Florida.

But in 2004, Graham and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry took pains to distinguish between politically unpopular drilling off Florida and presumably safer drilling farther away in “the deep water” in the Gulf of Mexico.



When the two appeared together in Tampa in April 2004, Kerry was asked about drilling.

The Massachusetts Senator gave a long answer typical of what his supporters celebrated as “nuance” and his critics blasted as all-things-to-all-people waffling.


Bob Graham-led oil spill commission, light on technical expertise, launches hearings in New Orleans today

Monday, July 12th, 2010 by George Bennett

AP photo shows President Obama with spill commission co-chairs Bob Graham (left) and former EPA Administrator William Reilly.

AP photo shows President Obama with spill commission co-chairs Bob Graham (left) and former EPA Administrator William Reilly.

With former Florida Sen. and offshore drilling critic Bob Graham as one of its co-chairs, a commission appointed by President Obama to study the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began hearings this morning in New Orleans.

Here’s the official White House website describing the commission and its members.

Here’s an Associated Press article from last month noting the lack of technical expertise of the panelists.

And here’s frequently updated coverage from today’s meeting by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Biden to Florida Panhandle: ‘We’re not going anywhere.’

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010 by Dara Kam

bidencristallenWith Gov. Charlie Crist by his side, Vice President Joe Biden vowed that the Sunshine State has the president’s full support as residents and business owners cope with the continuing impacts of oil on beaches and inland waters from the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“This region has been hit hard by acts of God and now by an act of man. We’re going to be feeling the effects, and you’re going to be feeling the effects, for some time to come. But we also intend to stick with this region until it has been made whole,” Biden said early this evening, referring to the devastation of 2004 Hurricane Ivan on the Panhandle. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re staying here until the job is done.”

Flanked by Deepwater Horizon incident commander U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the state’s newly-appointed disaster response leader Capt. Steve Poulin and Crist, Biden spoke of the importance the Gulf of Mexico plays in the “cultural ecosystem” of the coastal communities where fishing has come to an abrupt end.

“There’s in a sense a way of life at stake here, not just an economic concern,” Biden told reporters reading from a prepared statement to a group of reporters in front of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter “Oak” at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola.

“We’re not going to forget the people of the Gulf until their economy is back up and running, until this is cleaned up, until the oil is stopped from gushing from the bottom of the ocean floor. We’re not going to end this until everyone is made whole,” he said.

I found skimmers, McCollum tells Obama official. Now get ‘em here.

Friday, June 25th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Bill McCollum stepped up his demands for more skimming vessels to be sent to Florida to combat black waves of oil as thick as two inches deep washing up on Panhandle beaches.

McCollum, a Republican running for governor, sent U.S. Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano a letter today again seeking more skimming boats for the Sunshine State.

McCollum’s staff located at least four skimming vessels operated by a Jacksonville-based company that helped in the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster and included information about Crowley Maritime in his letter to Napolitano.

There are 28 skimming vessels in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s shores but thousands more are available from other countries offering services that President Barack Obama’s administration has thus far refused to accept.

“I don’t get it. There’s some real disconnect. It’s either incompetence or somebody’s decided we don’t need them,” McCollum said in an interview. “Why should we leave a single American flag vessel available? Why aren’t we calling them? I don’t know for the life of me.”

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.

Florida political tweeters
Video: Politics stories