Letter from Attorney General Bill McCollum:
Yesterday I visited Escambia and Bay Counties to see and hear firsthand how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is impacting communities in the Panhandle. In Pensacola, I received a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center and was absolutely appalled to discover that, despite numerous requests from my office to the President and his Administration, the federal government is still not providing the aggressive response to the oil spill in Florida that it is providing to Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
After being excluded last week from a meeting of Gulf Coast state Attorneys General with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, on Thursday I sent a letter to Attorney General Holder requesting a meeting to discuss the impact this catastrophic disaster will have on Florida’s delicate ecosystem and our economy. Among other things, I requested that skimmer boats be deployed to our waters and that the federal government begin evaluating new technologies to mitigate the oil spill’s impact. As of today, Attorney General Holder has yet to schedule a meeting with me, but I did learn the Coast Guard was told to deploy 20 skimmer vessels to Florida waters.
While this is a start, I’ve been told that up to 300 skimmer vessels are docked around the country waiting deployment and the 20 that have been deployed to Florida will take two weeks to arrive. There is absolutely no excuse to not have every single available skimmer boat at the Coast Guard’s disposal currently deployed to the Gulf to keep the oil off our shores. There is no question whether this oil will taint our pristine beaches; it’s only a matter of time. Further, I’ve learned that after my insistence, the Administration has agreed to convene an interagency work group to evaluate new technologies to mitigate the spill’s impact. I am thankful that finally, after nearly two months, the federal government is taking the first steps toward thinking outside of the box on ways to cap the spill and clean it. It’s about time.
After walking the beach in Pensacola, I was relieved to see that the beaches are still open to visitors, but I was dismayed to see thousands of tar balls washing up on the sand. Clean-up crews were on the beach, but it will be impossible for humans to pick up all of the tar balls on the entire beach by hand. The Chairman of the Escambia County Commission informed me that the county had asked BP to purchase sand sifter machinery to assist in the clean-up of the beach five weeks ago and still has not received a response or the first piece of machinery.
Throughout the day, I also heard complaints from citizens and local leaders about BP’s response to the claims process, so I traveled to the Bay County branch of BP’s Information and Community Outreach Office to get answers. I met with the office director who confirmed the claims process was taking longer than the company would like because of the volume of claims coming in and the time required to review all of the supporting documentation. I was assured BP would continue to attend to every claim they received, and my office will continue to closely monitor this process.
My last stop of the day was to meet with fishermen and shrimp boat captains to discuss the impact the oil spill was having on their industry. The fishermen were rightfully frustrated and discouraged, and I share their aggravation. I spent over an hour with this group discussing the claims process and the Vessels of Opportunity program. I’m hopeful the assistance my office is providing to people navigating through these processes will be beneficial.
Without a doubt, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the most horrendous event Florida has ever been faced with. While the lack of federal response is inexcusable, I promise I will personally continue to listen to the concerns of Floridians and use any and all resources at my disposal to ensure that Floridians are protected from scams, reimbursed for financial hardships and that the responsible parties are held accountable for every single drop of oil that reaches our shores. Additionally, I will continue to reach out to the Federal Government and demand that Florida receives at least the same resources the other Gulf States are receiving.