In Panhandle stop, GOP Senate candidate Rubio calls federal response to oil spill “abysmal”

By Matt Sedensky, AP
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rubio calls federal oil spill response “abysmal”

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Senate hopeful Marco Rubio accused the Obama administration of “insanity” and “incompetence” in its handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, while steering from his own support of offshore drilling in a campaign stop Wednesday.

Rubio said Obama should have convened the world’s leading experts in the initial days of the spill and devised a plan to stop it, and railed against federal regulatory nitpicking he says has kept containment and clean-up efforts from being more effective.

“The response has been abysmal,” the likely Republican nominee from West Miami said. “What this oil spill has revealed to us is a level of federal incompetence that is intolerable.”

The criticism of the federal response was met with loud applause in Rubio’s appearance in the Panhandle, where beaches have seen oil wash ashore. But he stayed away of his own stance on offshore drilling, which is controversial in this tourism-dependent region.

In questioning after his appearance, Rubio reiterated his openness to considering offshore drilling in Florida’s waters but said it was a “non-issue” because it is currently barred by state law.

“It has to be based on science. If the science says that drilling off Florida’s waters should be safe, that’s one thing. If it says it’s not, that’s another,” Rubio said. “Legalizing drilling off our coast should be based on a cost-benefit analysis that benefits Florida and doesn’t cost it ecologically or economically.”

Democratic candidates Kendrick Meek and Jeff Greene both oppose drilling off Florida’s coast and Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for Senate as an independent, has come out against it since the Gulf spill.

Rubio, the former state House speaker, criticized the decision by Crist to call a special legislative session with the aim of putting an offshore drilling ban on the ballot in November. Lawmakers will meet next week to consider whether voters should be able to decide on a constitutional amendment that would prohibit drilling in state waters. Rubio said the move is “nothing but a political stunt that uses this region and its suffering as a prop for a political campaign.”

Meantime, the Democratic National Committee dismissed Rubio’s criticisms as a political ploy of his own.

“It’s sad that Mr. Rubio would politicize this tragedy while so many families and businesses are dealing with its effects,” said Joanne Peters, a DNC spokeswoman. “He’s become just like other Washington Republicans who for political gain have attacked the administration for holding BP fully accountable and for supporting legislation that would ensure we are never in a position to be reliant on reckless oil companies ever again.”

In his appearance Wednesday, Rubio advocated creating a “Gulf Opportunity Zone” to provide tax relief to businesses and individuals, such as was done after Hurricane Katrina. He also called for making BP claims checks tax-exempt and easing fishing regulations in the state.

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