Peltier column: Like oil spill itself, plans for session to address issue have vanished

MICHAEL PELTIER

Like the oil sheen from the Deepwater Horizon well itself, talk of a special session to address issues related to the historic oil spill appear to have vanished as legislative leaders and political hopefuls turn their attention toward upcoming elections and other matters.

Legislative leaders combined last week to effectively apply a “top kill” on efforts to address gaps in Florida law and other issues that became apparent after the explosion and subsequent release of nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Following reports by House work groups that it was still too early to begin determining how much money BP may owe the state, leaders in both chambers said time may not be of the essence as they try to recoup some of the millions spent on preparation and response and the revenue lost when wary travelers chose other destinations to spend their time and money.

House Speaker Larry Cretul led the way, adding his name to the growing list of lawmakers who say a special session dealing with the aftermath of the BP oil spill are premature and unnecessary.

“Based on the workgroups’ recommendations, it would appear that while there are some issues where legislative action may be appropriate, there are no issues that require immediate formal legislative action,” Cretul wrote. “Additionally, there are several areas where it is clear that we do not yet possess the information necessary to make informed decisions. “

It didn’t take Senate President Jeff Atwater long to follow suit. Arguably the more ardent supporter of bringing lawmakers back to address oil, Atwater instead resigned himself to putting off dealing with the issue until the 2011 session.

“I want to thank Sen. (Don) Gaetz and the members of the Select Committee on Florida’s Economy for their hard work on behalf of the Floridians impacted by the oil disaster,” Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said in a memo to Senate members.

“I have asked them to continue developing proposals, gathering data, and working with incoming leadership in preparation for the next session.”

Meeting to approve the final draft of its report, the House Deepwater Horizon recovery work group headed by Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, said it will take a few more months to figure out how much money local governments lost as tourists stayed away.

Unlike private claims that will be handled through a third party headed by Feinberg, cities, counties and the state must work with BP to be reimbursed. Neither the company, nor government officials, have a template on how exactly that is supposed to work.

“For us, the biggest challenge is there really isn’t much precedent around the country to work from,” Hudson said.

Revenue data is also lagging behind. Revenue collections for July have yet to be collected and analyzed. That data won’t be available until later this month. Given the lack of information, Hudson said a special session would not be prudent.

“I think local governments are going to have to do a lot more data collection,” Hudson said. “I don’t see anything within our recommendation that would necessitate the need for a special session.”

E-mail Michael Peltier at mpeltier1234@comcast.net.

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