An unhappy anniversary is remembered this month in Florida, where April 20 marks one year since the start of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion on a BP oil rig not only killed seven workers and injured 17 others, but also triggered a three-month gushing oil leak that released more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf before the well was capped on July 15. Marine, wildlife and fishing habitats were severely damaged, and Florida tourism was negatively impacted during the height of the summer vacation season. Tar balls rolled up on some pristine northwest Florida beaches, which were cleaned with the help of a massive, BP-funded cleanup effort.
Last week Florida Governor Rick Scott accepted $30 million in voluntary marketing funds from BP, which contributed the money to the seven counties in Florida's northwest panhandle most severely affected by the spill. The funds will be used to spread the word to vacationers and the travel industry community that Florida's Gulf region is clean, open, and ready to receive vacationers for the 2011 season. According to Florida newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times and the Orlando Sentinel, there is still controversy over whether the state is forcing BP to do enough to pay for damage and business recovery, including for tourism marketing.
While the states of Louisiana and Alabama have already joined a federal lawsuit seeking billions of dollars worth of damages from BP, Florida has thus far relied on the oil company's voluntary contributions of millions of dollars. While Scott believes more can be gained quickly for Florida communities by negotiating with BP for voluntary aid as with the $30 million given to the panhandle counties, his Florida political opponents are urging him to join in the federal suit. Reportedly, the deadline for Florida to join the federal lawsuit comes up on the April 20 anniversary, so the next week may result in a final decision on which way Florida will go with BP.