With oil from a destroyed Gulf of Mexico rig now apparently headed for Florida, the question becomes more urgent: What is the plan to protect the Sunshine State? The federal government needs to move quickly to ensure Florida has the containment booms, ready cash and logistics necessary to help residents and coastal areas cope with a potential economic and environmental disaster. The Coast Guard confirmed early Wednesday that oil has entered the loop current, which would take it counterclockwise south through the Gulf of Mexico and around the Florida Keys before shooting it up Florida's Atlantic Coast. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Paul F. Zukunft told the state's congressional delegation Wednesday that "only an act of God" could keep the oil from being carried through the current. With hundreds of miles of coastline, thousands of jobs and billions of dollars at stake, the time to act is now:
• Florida needs containment booms as a first line of defense. The problem is that the federal government is running short — thanks to a spill that has spewed at least 210,000 gallons of oil a day for 30 days in every direction. Coast Guard Cmdr. Thad Allen, who is leading the federal response, said at a Senate hearing Tuesday that officials were scrambling to acquire more booms, but the meandering flow of the spill meant that booms are needed across the expanse of the central and eastern gulf. Officials need to move booms to Florida and ensure that local communities have the resources to deploy them.
• BP needs to follow through on promises to help affected communities mop up the oil. The $25 million grant the company provided to Florida may blunt the state's most immediate losses in tourism. But it comes nowhere close to meeting the company's responsibility to state taxpayers and businesses. Neither should have to front the expense of BP's man-made disaster. U.S. Sen. George LeMieux asked BP on May 11 to provide $1 billion up-front for damages. Seven days later, BP said it would mull over the request for another week. The company needs to quit stalling. BP must be held accountable, and it needs to spend what it takes to help Florida mitigate the damage.
• State officials have done a good job coordinating with emergency responders and keeping the public informed. But with oil entering the loop current, the crisis enters a more serious phase. The threat to Florida is broader and more complex. State officials need to ensure that local officials have a say in the cleanup effort. Washington also needs to better demonstrate to Florida that BP's aggressive use of chemical dispersants is an appropriate environmental trade-off for fighting the spill. The oil disaster has reached a new dimension for Florida, and government at every level must rise to the job.