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In Tampa, AG Pam Bondi announces $3.25 billion settlement with BP on Deepwater Horizon spill

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Calling it not just a solution, but a “remarkable achievement,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced at the Port of Tampa this morning details of Florida’s $3.25 billion settlement with BP over damages from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Florida’s portion is part of an $18.7 billion settlement with the five Gulf states affected by the spill, along with Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.

“Instead of battling through a litigation black hole, we have now forged ahead with an agreement to spur hope and spur recovery for our entire Gulf region. It’s not just a solution, but a remarkable achievement,” Bondi said this morning shortly after the international gag order was lifted on the deal, which comes as a federal judge was preparing to rule on how much BP owed in federal Clean Water Act penalties after well over 125 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf back in the spring and summer of 2010.

Florida will receive $2 billion in economic losses, which is twice that received by any other state in the settlement for such losses. The first payment of $400 million will come in January, where it will go directly to Triumph Gulf Coast, a five-member board agency created by the Legislature in the fall of 2013 to administer recovery funds from the BP disaster. Fully 75 percent of the $2 billion will go to Triumph, where  it will be distributed to the eight counties deemed disproportionately impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla.

Flanking Bondi at the press conference were state lawmakers Dana Young from Tampa, Pasco County state Sen. Wilton Simpson, and Panhandle area state Sen. Don Gaetz, representing the region of the state most affected by the spill.

“These funds will be used to diversify the economy, strengthen Northwest Florida, and our coastal areas to make sure that, God forbid, if something like this ever happens again, that we aren’t brought to our knees by having an undiversified economy,” Gaetz said.

He added he was grateful for Bondi’s work on the issue, saying he feared such a settlement wouldn’t take place for years or decades to come, referring to the extensive litigation that has occurred over the decades in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez disaster from 1989.

Interestingly, Tampa, which was not directly affected by the spill affecting local beaches, will take $27 million out of the economic settlement, the most of any city in Florida. Local attorney Steve Yerrid said at a press conference in Tampa that there was no question that the city was economically harmed by a loss of tourism in 2010 because of the spill.

On the environment part, which has to do with the federal Clean Water Act and the federal RESTORE Act, Florida will receive $1.25 billion. That’s broken down into at least $680 million for natural resource damages, and at least $572 million from the RESTORE Act. In announcing this portion of the settlement, Bondi was apologetic that it wasn’t more money, saying, “We have nothing to do with that. That was dictated by Congress.” That money will be distributed throughout the entire state — to beaches, piers and enhancements for fishing.

Bondi also explained that $232 million will be set aside for the future, if previously unreported environmental issues arise.

When asked if Florida had wanted more money from BP, Bondi reiterated that it was a “historical agreement.”

“Had we litigated this? This would have been a black hole. We would have been in litigation for years….So, we’re thrilled.”

Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, praised the settlement, saying, “Today’s settlement is a victory for the wildlife of the Gulf. This brings to a close the long legal ordeal that had left restoration efforts in limbo and it gives us certainty moving forward. Now it is time for Gulf restoration to begin in earnest”

The Deepwater Horizon event occurred on April 10, 2010, with an explosion that killed 11 crew members, and began immediately leaking oil for months on end — 4.9 million gallons of it. To try to quell the spill, BP ended up using a chemical dispersant called Corexit 9500 and 9527 to prevent the toxic oil from reaching the fragile bays, beaches and mangroves of the Gulf coast.

In terms of environmental damage, The Associated Press earlier this year  asked 26 scientists to grade the effects of the spill on about two dozen aspects of Gulf health. They concluded the Gulf was 11 percent less healthy today, dropping from an average 73 to 65 on a scale of 100 to zero.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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