Florida's future is on the line this summer. The nation's worst oil spill threatens the state's beaches, its economy — in many ways, its very identity. With tar balls washing up on Pensacola Beach and "hundreds of thousands" of oil patches in the gulf, the battle to limit the damage is engaged. It will be a long, hard struggle. The Coast Guard commander in charge of the federal response to the BP oil spill acknowledges the cleanup will last "well into the fall" and beyond. That will require an extraordinary commitment by the public and private sectors to protect the state's fragile coastline and ensure the economic survival of countless Florida families. Among the top priorities:
Insist the federal government take over claims.
BP is stringing along people who have lost businesses and income from the oil spill. While the company has paid out $84 million in compensation so far (including about $8 million in Florida), fishermen, charter boat operators and others say the payments come nowhere close to what they would ordinarily be making.
Asked Monday where BP had fallen short in the response effort, Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said succinctly: "We'd like them to get better at claims." Allen is meeting with BP this week to prod the company to speed up payments. A better idea is for the federal government to take over. Federal officials have already moved to help people in four gulf states file claims with BP. Allen also said National Guard troops might be used to reach out to people who might otherwise be intimidated from dealing with the company. The government lacks the means to stop the leak, but it has the manpower and logistical ability to ensure that those entitled to compensation get it.
Get more resources to the Gulf.
BP and federal officials are moving booms, boats, patrol craft and skimming operations east as summer winds and storms push the oil from Louisiana to Florida. The first boat deployed in a new sentry program to monitor the Florida Keys left John's Pass over the weekend. Allen said Monday that federal officials had enlisted about 1,500 boats of varying size to skim and patrol all depths of water, from offshore to inland bays. BP also is moving a large container ship from Europe to its broken wellhead off Louisiana to siphon more of the gushing oil.
It's going to take more than that to protect Florida. As Allen says, it is a collection of thousands of mini-spills rather than a monolithic spill moving in single direction. That makes it all the more vital for BP to put more cleanup crews in the bays, on the beaches and on the water.
Keep up the pressure.
Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink have all pressured BP and the federal government to be more responsive. So have U.S. Sens. George LeMieux and Bill Nelson. They need to keep it up and demand that Florida's needs are met, from more skimmers in the gulf to more tourism ads on television that point out that most beaches and vacation spots are still unaffected by the spill.
Crist and other state officials need to remain visible and work together, because Florida will have to compete with other gulf states for attention from BP and the federal government. Today's meeting of the governor and Cabinet with a top BP official is an opportunity to keep the pressure on.