A former Florida lieutenant governor and current oil industry lobbyist who recently indicated the Deepwater Horizon oil spill wasn’t a very big deal has walked back his comments ― a bit.
The 2010 spill “didn’t even reach the shores of Florida,” Jeff Kottkamp said at a news conference earlier this month, the Florida Phoenix reported. When asked about oil-slicked birds and tar balls and resulted from the incident, he responded that “tar balls are naturally occurring.”
The Gainesville Sun accused Kottkamp of cooking up “alternative facts” and counting on people not to believe their own eyes and experiences. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who was Kottkamp’s boss at the time of the spill, was widely photographed at oil-blackened state beaches.
The Deepwater Horizon spill was the largest accidental ocean spill in history.
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 men, spewed 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the water and fouled 1,300 miles of coastline. It exposed Gulf Coast residents to toxins and continues to damage the environment in the area, including killing marine animals.
Kottkamp has walked back his comments downplaying the spill but continued to insist the damage wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be.
“I guess I overstated it,” Kottkamp told The Tampa Bay Times of his earlier comments about Florida not being affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“Obviously, yeah, we had some oil,” he said. “But nothing like what was being reported. You would have thought that the entire state was covered in oil.”
Kottkamp is now heading a group seeking to open the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil drilling. The national industry-backed group, Explore Offshore, is pushing to allow oil companies to investigate new places to drill in federal waters that are now off limits.
David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, which backs Explore Offshore, agreed with Kottkamp that the public’s perception of the disaster was due to a “lot of bad publicity. … Perception was a bigger problem than the actual oil on the beaches,” he told the Tampa Bay Times.
But Earthjustice staff attorney Bradley Marshall said it’s “absurd to claim the Deepwater Horizon spill did not reach Florida,” given the damage the state experienced.
“That’s why so many of Florida’s leaders, regardless of what political party they belong to, have been so protective of our coasts all these years,” he said in a statement.
The Trump administration is working to dismantle drilling protections that were instituted to prevent another incident like the Deepwater Horizon spill. In January, the administration announced plans to open previously protected parts of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas drilling. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted soon after that he had granted GOP Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s request for an exemption.