Gulf oil spill: U.S. Senate panel gets earful on disaster aftermath

PENSACOLA — Nearly 15 months after the massive BP oil spill blighted the Gulf of Mexico and beaches across the southeast, Florida's top agriculture official said Monday that an untold number of residents whose livelihoods were disrupted have not yet been compensated.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, along with some Panhandle business owners and fishermen affected by the massive spill, testified at a U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship hearing. U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., requested the hearing to be updated on the long term effects on those affected most by the spill that resulted from a blowout of a wellhead on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010.

"Our fishermen and their corresponding businesses — charter boats, restaurants, hotels, seafood distributors and processors — all continue to suffer," Putnam testified, noting a widespread public skepticism about the safety of seafood taken from Gulf waters. He told the panel that a survey completed just last month revealed that more than three of five people remain skeptical about the safety of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico despite laboratory tests that show nearly 90 percent of the samples show no trace of an oil contaminant.

Putnam, R-Bartow, also said BP's compensation methods continued to be frustrating.

"We have witnessed repeated inexplicable delays," Putnam said. "This area remains extremely problematic."

Just last week BP said victims of the spill should not be paid on claims for future losses because the areas affected by the spill have recovered. Their claim was in a 29-page document filed with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which administers a $20 billion fund for victims.

But Rubio said Monday the British oil giant simply failed to hire enough qualified people to handle claims and that he'll look into that further when he returns to Washington.

"We're concerned about that," Rubio said, noting that he expects BP may be spending a lot more money in the future to restore the ecology and economy of the region.

"BP is going to be paying a big clean water fine," he said. "What happens to that money?"

Roughly 60 people attended the morning hearing on the campus of Pensacola State College.

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