ST. PETERSBURG —- Ask U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson to rate how he and his colleagues in Congress have responded to the Deepwater Horizon disaster that occurred two years ago, and he does not mince words.
Noting that the members of the presidential oil spill commission recently handed Congress a D grade for its failure to pass any new safety regulations, the Florida Democrat said, "It shouldn't have been a D. It should've been an F."
Nevertheless, there is one vote Nelson is immensely proud of — so proud he mentioned it every time he opened his mouth at a news conference organized by environmental activists on St. Petersburg's bayfront Friday. The news conference featured Nelson, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and Mayor Bill Foster voicing their continued opposition to drilling near Florida's beaches.
Last month, a bipartisan vote in the U.S. Senate approved a measure to take 80 percent of any fines collected from BP and other companies involved in the spill — between $5 billion and $20 billion — and send it to the six gulf coast states to spend on recovering from the spill.
The measure passed 76 to 22, Nelson pointed out, showing Republicans and Democrats can put aside their differences to help the region hurt by the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Twenty-three Republican senators voted for the measure despite strong opposition from influential anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, he said.
The House this week passed a similar measure, which means the two versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee. Nelson said he's hoping he and his colleagues in the Senate can convince the House to take their version, which details how the money should be spent.
Nelson also touted the results of a U.S. Justice Department audit of the payment of oil spill claims that he and Sen. Marco Rubio had requested. The bill they co-sponsored told the Justice Department to find an independent auditor to review the work of Ken Feinberg's Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which had processed more than 1 million claims and paid a total of more than $6.2 billion to some 220,000 people and businesses. It denied 60 percent of the claims.
The audit results, announced Thursday, found "significant errors" in the way Feinberg's group had paid claims. As a result, the Justice Department said it would send more than $64 million in additional payments to some 7,300 people and businesses. More than 4,000 of those claims were for people or businesses in Florida, who will now receive $37.7 million that had previously been turned down.
Craig Pittman can be reached at email@example.com