Rick Scott Wants to Negotiate - Not Litigate - with BP

Deepwater Horizon
TAMPA (2011-4-14) -

Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the blowout that sparked the largest oil spill in the nation's history. It's also the deadline to join a massive lawsuit to recoup economic damages from the spill. But some Gulf state governors would rather negotiate than sue.

It may seem simple to some - you get wronged, you sue. But when you up the stakes to include the oiled shoreline of four states and economic damages to thousands of fishermen, hotel operators and restauranteurs, the political waters can get, well, muddied.

New Florida governor Rick Scott isn't making the situation any clearer. He talks tough about getting Florida's fair share of the damages...

"We will continue to hold BP accountable to Floridians," he says, "and the Floridians and businesses who lost millions of dollars because of the oil spill."

But he's balking at joining a consolidated lawsuit against Transocean, the operators of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

As for BP - Scott says he'd rather negotiate than litigate. Earlier this week, he celebrated a pledge of $30 million from BP to promote tourism in Florida's Panhandle.

The special counsel appointed by Scott's predecessor has another description of that money.

"Chump change," says Steve Yerrid, who was hired by former governor Charlie Crist. He has tried to contact Gov. Scott with his findings three times. Three times, he got no response. Yerrid says the governor owes it to Florida taxpayers to get as much money for damages as he can.

"I know that we had a viable claim," says Yerrid. "We can argue over the money - OK, if it wasn't $2 billion, it was $1 billion. If it wasn't a billion it was $500 million. It was a hell of a lot of money."

Scott was elected on a pro-business platform. And that, says University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus, is coloring his strategy.

"He's reticent to sue, he pursues every other avenue possible," says MacManus. "And I think that this is consistent with his business philosophy."

Former Gov. Crist says he doesn't understand Scott's hesitation.

"Living in the Panhandle for about two months last spring and the early part of the summer, I can tell you that the impact - while not direct - was certainly indirect in terms of financial aspects of it, related to tourism, restaurants and so many other things, but also the state," Crist said before a speech earlier this week at Stetson University. "Unless people are visiting Florida, those revenues are down. So I think a claim is absolutely appropriate."

The governors of Louisiana and Alabama aren't hesitating. Those states have joined the lawsuit against TransOcean, which will likely include finger-pointing at who's responsible - BP, TransOcean, or oil services company Halliburton.

Alabama's top officials are actively encouraging people in that state to join the lawsuit. Here's their public service announcement:

"I'm Gov. Robert Bentley. And I'm Attorney General Luther Strange. We're working together to make sure Alabama recovers all of its losses from the Gulf oil spill.

Yerrid says Gov. Scott has less than a week, or Florida may be left out of that settlement.

"This governor has run up on a deadline, which they can minimize, they can ignore or they can utilize," he says. "The problem is this is a deadline, and I hope they don't end up being dead wrong."

A spokesman for Scott says they're not ignoring the possiblity of suing BP, but they want to keep their options open.

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