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Oil Spill 2010: Charlie Crist Looks Back

Pete Souza/Obama White House Archives

In 2010, Crist was the state’s Republican chief executive. Speaking to Escambia and Santa Rosa county commissioners and other officials in the days after the spill, he said the Florida Panhandle was on the “front lines” of the disaster.

“You’ve got 85 million people a year come to visit Florida; and I guarantee you a majority of the reason is because Florida is beautiful,” Crist told them. “And we have more coastline than any of our neighboring states.”

A decade later, Charlie Crist is a Democrat, representing Florida’s 13th congressional district. He looks back at Deepwater Horizon, remembering the initial reports.

“So once I finally got more of a descriptive term – one that was more easily comprehensive by me – not a scientist – I knew it was going to affect Florida,” Crist said. “Louisiana is not far; unless it stopped quickly, that it was going to have a significant impact on the Sunshine State. And that it did.”

Crist made several visits to Pensacola Beach that summer, meeting a number of times with workers in hazmat suits cleaning up the beaches.

“All of you, thank you for what you’re doing here, we really appreciate it,” Crist told one crew on the beach. “I know it’s hot; it’s not the most pleasant work in the world, but these people who are standing behind you, and I, appreciate it more than you’ll even know.”

Meeting with both elected officials and residents, Crist’s message was staying calm and handling the problems – working both hard and smart in a team effort.

“Let’ keep our wits about us; work with the appropriate agencies – the Coast Guard, [Fish and Wildlife] and all those who could be helpful,” said Crist. “And try to keep the oil/tar balls off our beautiful beaches and just be one day at a time about how we deal with this – something we’ve never dealt with before.”

The governor and First Lady Carole Crist also took part in a “Hands across the Sand” protest against offshore drilling. He said the overriding lesson taken from the event dealt with America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

“All of us are guilty because our cars use it; but there are alternatives that we need to be moving toward,” said Crist during the event in 2010. “We’ve been talking about that for 30 years in this country. And I think it would be very important to have a special session to ban offshore drilling in Florida waters [through a constitutional amendment]. It already is statutorily banned.”

Crist’s call for the special session was considered bad timing when, many said, fishermen, hoteliers and restaurateurs were worried about making the upcoming payroll.

“I just thought it was the right thing to do,” Crist said. “It was not warmly embraced – I’m being kind – by the Legislature at the time. There they are representing people, a lot of them who have businesses on the coast, and yet seem to be so cavalier about how [drilling] could negatively impact our environment and our economy.” 

Credit Pete Souza/ Obama White House Archives
President Barack Obama is briefed by Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, along with local, state and federal officials, on efforts to fight the BP oil spill on Pensacola Beach, during a meeting at the Fish Sandwich Snack Bar at the Pensacola Gulf Pier June 15, 2010.

President Obama, Sen. Bill Nelson and other federal officials also toured the beaches, seeing the black splotches in contrast to the sugar-white sands of the Panhandle. Crist had praise for the Chief Executive.

“He could not have been more engaged and truly sincere about caring for Florida -- and the whole Gulf Coast for that matter,” said the former governor. “I would have daily calls with the other Gulf Coast governors with Valerie Jarrett, one of his most trusted advisors in Washington, and [was] just really impressed by the reaction from the administration.”

Dealing with the feds was one thing— in working with the Florida Legislature, Crist said they were not as concerned about the oil industry impacting Florida. Not so the local officials dealing with the crude that was – quite literally – in their own backyard.

“They couldn’t have been better -- mayors, county commissioners -- who live in the community and understand that their role is to try to protect it,” Crist said. “In Florida, our economy is inextricably linked with our environment. The locals understood that extraordinarily well in my view, from what I saw. And I was very grateful for that.”

As mentioned, Charlie Crist was a Republican governor; he was an independent for a time, and currently is a Democratic congressman. But he says the switches in party and office have not changed his opinions on Deepwater Horizon.

“I’ve always felt the same way about our environment,” said Crist. “I can remember when I won as a state senator back in 1992; I had the ‘4-Es’ as my campaign slogan – ‘Ethics, Environment, Economy, and Education.’ Those things are very important, I think, to most Floridians [and] frankly, most Americans.”

And 10 years later, Charlie Crist has this message for his fellow Floridians:

“I think just love Florida; understand how blessed we are to live here. And we need to do everything to be good stewards of the land and the water, and protect what God has created. It’s that important.”