The oil spill spreading across the Gulf of Mexico is sending ripples through Florida and national politics, giving Gov. Charlie Crist a reason to withdraw his support for offshore drilling.
After a 90-minute plane flight Tuesday above the spill, which was spreading in an 80-mile by 42-mile blob, Crist said, "Clearly it could be devastating to Florida if something like that were to occur. It's the last thing in the world I would want to see happen in our beautiful state.''
He said there is no question now that lawmakers should give up on the idea of drilling off Florida's coast this year and in coming years. He has said previously he would support drilling if it was far enough from shore, safe enough and clean enough. He said the spill is proof that's not possible.
"Clearly that one isn't far enough and that's about 50 to 60 miles out, it's clearly not clean enough after we saw what we saw today — that's horrific — and it certainly isn't safe enough. It's the opposite of safe," Crist said.
Earlier in the day the Legislature's main advocate of drilling, incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Orlando, said the disaster had him asking questions.
"It causes me to want to examine what happened and how it could have been prevented, and we need to figure that out before we make any further decisions," said Cannon, who has proposed allowing rigs as close as 3 miles off Florida's beaches.
Before the spill, Cannon had promised to bring the drilling proposal back up when he becomes speaker next year, touting the millions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs that would be created by near-shore drilling.
But Attorney General Bill McCollum, a fellow Republican running for governor, said Cannon should forget passing that bill in 2011 because "he'll face a veto on my desk if he brings it up the way it is now. I know it's a revenue producer, but that's not a good enough reason."
Meanwhile, in Washington, the spill "is going to have a chilling effect" on a plan by President Barack Obama to open up the eastern gulf to drilling, predicted U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.: "It's another reminder of the risks of offshore drilling."
And the senator welcomed Crist back, after the governor in 2008 said he had become more open to the possibility of drilling off Florida. Nelson said he was "very glad the governor realized the realities of what an oil spill could do to the beaches of the Florida coast."
The oil, which has been oozing out at a rate estimated at 42,000 gallons a day, is coming from the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Deepwater Horizon exploded about 11 p.m. on April 20 and later sank. Eleven members of the 126-member crew remain missing and are presumed dead. The cause of the explosion at the rig remains under investigation.
Efforts to close off the leak using robot submarines have so far failed. Other options for ending the leak could take longer — up to three months, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials.
The marshes of southern Louisiana and Mississippi appear to face the most immediate risk from the spill because they are closest to it, oceanographers say. However, if the leaking oil drifts far enough east to get caught in the gulf's powerful loop current, it could wind up coating beaches in the Florida Keys and then be swept north along the state's Atlantic coast.
New Jersey Democratic Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg said the spill calls into question the credibility of safety claims by the oil industry. In a letter citing government figures, they said that since 2006 there have been 509 fires on rigs in the gulf, causing at least two fatalities and 12 serious injuries — all before Deepwater Horizon.
"Big Oil has perpetuated a dangerous myth that coastline drilling is a completely safe endeavor, but accidents like this are a sober reminder just how far that is from the truth," the two senators said.
Despite the spill, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday that President Barack Obama is still sticking to his plan to open up part of the eastern gulf and areas of the Atlantic seaboard to oil drilling.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which also includes information from the Associated Press.