State Readies Legal Team in Response to Oil Spill
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Gov. Charlie Crist and Attorney General Bill McCollum announced Monday that the state is assembling a special legal team to give free legal counsel on the situation.
The team is to be led by former attorneys general Bob Butterworth, who led the state’s lawsuit against tobacco companies in the late 1990s, and Jim Smith, who was attorney general from 1979 to 1987.
“We would hope at the end of the day that there would be no litigation,” Butterworth said in a brief afternoon press conference. “But we have to be prepared.”
The former attorneys general will give the state legal counsel and offer advice to people who might be impacted by the spill, which has yet to reach Florida's shores.
The oil spill was spurred by an explosion last month aboard the Deepwater Horizon, a drilling rig leased by BP. In late April, company officials estimated that 5,000 barrels of oil were leaking into the Gulf each day.
BP has promised to cut the state a check for $25 million to fight the oil spill, but Crist said that might not be enough. The fact that the company that started the spill is now responsible for stopping it is also cause for concern, he said.
McCollum, who met with attorneys general of several Gulf Coast states to discuss the spill, said that BP has been cooperative so far, but he will not rule out legislation against the oil giant. He said he’s been in talks with the plaintiff attorneys who sued in the Exxon Valdez spill, the largest oil spill off U.S. shores until now.
In the meantime, Democrats have called for a special session to ban offshore oil drilling, despite the fact that many in favor of the idea backed away from it once the spill started.
“As far as I’m concerned, it’s not necessary,” said McCollum, a gubernatorial candidate.” Once I’m governor, it’s not going to happen.”
On Friday, BP tried to contain the spill by placing a giant dome over the oil leaks, but that strategy hit a wall when ice-like crystals clogged the dome.
Now, crude is continuing to spill into the water, and BP is facing dozens of lawsuits from every Gulf Coast state. Many of those suits have come from people like fishermen and restaurant owners, whose livelihoods could be compromised by the disaster.
BP is brainstorming new ways to cut off the oil flow, which could include pumping mud and concrete into a blowout preventer. Meanwhile, the Gulf spill is on track to surpass the Exxon Valdez spill as the worst in national history by late June.
Sunshine State News staff writer Lyndsey Lewis contributed to this report.