Fla. lawmakers discuss oil spill on anniversary

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News,Science and Technology

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida lawmakers came together Friday to say their battle continues to protect the Gulf of Mexico three years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., announced that he is co-sponsoring legislation that would lift the liability from $75 million for removal costs for an offshore oil spill. He said the current law limits the ability to collect damages in excess of $75 million, unless there is gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Also on Friday, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said she would file a lawsuit against oil company BP over the spill on Saturday, which is the three-year anniversary of the tragedy.

Bondi said in a news release that she planned to file the federal suit in the Panama City division of the Northern District of Florida. It focuses on the economic losses suffered by the State of Florida. Bondi contends that Florida is entitled to revenues it lost from the spill, including sales taxes, cigarette surcharges, beer taxes, among other things.

Florida is also seeking punitive damages under maritime and state common law.

Saturday marks the three-year anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig and subsequent well rupture off the coast of Louisiana, killing 11 workers. The oil spill fouled 1,100 miles of beaches and marsh along the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

After three years of research, Nelson said "we still don't know what else is out there and haven't determined how long it will have an effect on the gulf."

"The fight is just beginning," he said. "The oil companies can run but they can't hide."

Nelson admitted he faces a tough challenge getting his legislation approved.

"The oil industry still reigns supreme, he said.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and several environmental researchers and advocates joined Nelson to say their fight to protect the Gulf remains a priority. Having a clean Gulf, Castor said, "means a healthy, clean economy."

Castor stressed the need to continue research and restoration efforts.

Robert Hueter, the associate vice president for research at Mote Marine Laboratory, said it will take decades to fully determine the trauma suffered by sea life in the Gulf. Hueter has researched the effects of oil on sharks and bluefin tuna the last two years.

Hueter said his research did not find major traces of contamination in the 2,800 fish samples collected near the busted well. That news is good, he said, but other research has shown much higher levels of damage in bottom-dwelling fish.

Also Friday, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam marked the anniversary by saying in a news release that seafood from the Gulf is safe for consumers to eat.

Putnam said that between August 2010 and March 31, 2013, the department screened 3,090 seafood samples, including 1,828 finfish, 313 shrimp, 375 oysters, 255 crabs, 261 clams and 58 lobsters for possible oil contamination.

Besides tests for oil contamination, samples were screened for the oil dispersant used to break up the oil by cleanup crews during the spill.

Putnam said all findings were well below the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's levels of concern; 96 percent of the seafood samples had no detectable levels of oil or dispersant.

"These tests show that Florida seafood is without a doubt safe to eat. Our shrimp, fish and other products continue to be some of the best quality seafood in the world," Putnam said.

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