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Florida Flirts With Deadline To Join Oil Spill Lawsuit

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Florida Flirts With Deadline To Join Oil Spill Lawsuit

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Florida Flirts With Deadline To Join Oil Spill Lawsuit

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Nothing says lawsuit like a massive oil spill that pollutes the shorelines of four states and causes major economic damage, but it turns out the decision to sue over last year's spill in the Gulf may not be so straightforward politically, at least in Florida. Next week marks one year since the BP spill.

And as Steve Newborn of member station WUSF reports, it's also the deadline for the state to join a huge lawsuit.

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

Governor RICK SCOTT (Republican, Florida): We will continue to hold BP accountable to Floridians and the Floridians and the businesses who lost millions of dollars because of the oil spill.

NEWBORN: As for BP, which leased the rig, 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.

Mr. STEVE YERRID (Lawyer): Chump change.

NEWBORN: Steve Yerrid has tried to contact Governor Scott with his findings three times. Three times, he got no response. Yerrid says the governor owes it to Florida taxpayers to get all the money he can.

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

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

Dr. SUSAN MACMANUS (Professor of Public Administration and Political Science, University of South Florida): He's reticent to sue. He pursues every other avenue possible. And I think that this is consistent with his business philosophy.

NEWBORN: 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 encouraging people in that state to join the lawsuit.

Governor ROBERT BENTLEY (Republican, Alabama): I'm Governor Robert Bentley.

Attorney General LUTHER STRANGE (Alabama): I'm Attorney General Luther Strange.

Gov. BENTLEY: We're working together to make sure Alabama recovers all of its losses resulting from the Gulf oil spill.

NEWBORN: Yerrid says Florida Governor Scott has less than a week or the state may be left out of that settlement.

Mr. YERRID: This governor has run up on a deadline, which they can minimize, they can ignore or they can utilize. The problem is it is a deadline, and I hope we don't end up being dead wrong.

NEWBORN: A spokesman for Scott says they may still sue BP, but they want to keep their options open.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Newborn in Tampa.

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