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FL To Get $3.25 Billion In BP Settlement

Florida will receive at least $3.2 billion  from an $18.7 billion settlement with BP over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP and five Gulf states announced the massive settlement Thursday, resolving years of legal fighting over the environmental and economic damage done by the energy giant's oil spill in 2010.

The roughly $18.7 billion in settlement money will be used to resolve the Clean Water Act penalties; resolve natural resources damage claims; settle economic claims; and resolve economic damage claims of local governments, according to an outline filed in federal court.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said a settlement with oil company BP prevents going down a "black hole" of litigation.

During a news conference at Port Tampa Bay on Thursday morning, Bondi announced the settlement terms.

In early 2016, Florida will receive the first of the funds, more than $400 million for economic losses. Three-quarters of that money will go to Triumph Gulf Coast, a trust fund set up by the Legislature, to help the eight counties in the Florida Panhandle that were most affected by the spill. The final 25 percent of the money will be distributed by the Legislature.

"These funds will be used to diversify the economy, to strengthen Northwest Florida, and our coastal areas to make sure that God forbid, if something like this ever happens again, that we aren't brought to our knees by having an undiversified economy," state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Destin, who represents several of those counties in the Florida Panhandle, said. 
He applauded the relative speed of the settlement in this case compared to 1989's Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.  

"The Exxon Valdez litigation is still going on, and that was more than a quarter of century ago, and the appeals continue, and the litigation continues," Gaetz said. "So, consequently, to be able to resolve this in this short period of time is significant for the people of Florida, and I think significant for the other Gulf states, who were led by our attorney general in this effort."

The remaining funds will be distributed over the next 17 years.

"This agreement will help Florida implement key projects and invest in environmental priorities to keep our state beautiful," Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday.

The settlement also involves Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

"If approved by the court, this settlement would be the largest settlement with a single entity in American history; it would help repair the damage done to the Gulf economy, fisheries, wetlands and wildlife; and it would bring lasting benefits to the Gulf region for generations to come," U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

The settlement announcement comes as a federal judge was preparing to rule on how much BP owed in federal Clean Water Act penalties. The judge had already found that 3.19 million barrels of oil - nearly 134 million gallons - spewed into the Gulf. Individual states also were pursuing litigation.

BP PLC chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said the settlement reflected the company's commitment to restoring the Gulf of Mexico economically and environmentally, and provided the company with closure going forward.

"It resolves the company's largest remaining legal exposures, provides clarity on costs and creates certainty of payment for all parties involved," Svanberg said.

The company had argued against a high Clean Water Act penalty, saying its spill-related costs already were expected to exceed $42 billion. It's also unclear how much BP will end up paying under a 2012 settlement with individuals and businesses claiming spill-related losses.

Costs incurred by BP so far include an estimated $14 billion for response and cleanup and $4.5 billion in penalties announced after a settlement of a criminal case with the government.

In 2012, BP reached the settlement with plaintiff's lawyers over economic and property damage claims arising from the spill. In its first-quarter earnings report for 2015, BP said it could estimate at least a $10.3 billion cost. But it also stressed that the cost could be higher, depending on how many legitimate claims were filed by a recently passed deadline.

Associated Press reporter Emily Wagster Pettus contributed to this report from Jackson, Mississippi.

Bobbie O’Brien has been a Reporter/Producer at WUSF since 1991. She reports on general news topics in Florida and the Tampa Bay region.
Lottie Watts is our Florida Mattersproducer, and she also covers health and health policy for.
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