Despite BP’s best efforts, the news keeps on flowing.

Gov. Charlie Crist’s Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force met for the first time Wednesday, calling for a “claims process on steroids.” The Coast Gaurd ramped up its oversight of BP, which appeared all the more necessary after the Associated Press reported startling flaws in the company’s response plan, which drew scorn from lawmakers. Environmental groups announced plans for “thousands” to join hands on Florida beaches in peaceful protest on June 26, while commercial fishermen have already begun to “rally for relief.”

No ordinary day at the beach
“Greasy tar balls, about the size of peas, scattered in sheets like pepper below the high-tide line” began blanketing Perdido Key Wednesday afternoon.

The arrival of tar balls triggered the Escambia County Department of Health on Tuesday to issue an advisory warning people not to go into the water on Perdido Key.

The beaches remain open, however, and despite the health advisory, a few people ventured into the surf early Wednesday afternoon.

But about 2:30 p.m., the sight of four approaching skimmers just offshore was enough to clear every swimmer within eyesight from the water.

Perdido Key is Florida’s westernmost beach. As the oil moves east, so will controversies about whether to close beaches.

Local government leaders face strong pressure from business owners to keep beaches open as long as possible, even as oil washes in and health concerns mount.

Health officials say they are compelled to protect the public, whatever the economic costs.

Alabama posted similar warnings earlier this week, while Louisiana’s main beach, on Grand Isle, has been closed since last month.

Meanwhile, a flotilla of Coast Guard ships and fishing vessels has assembled booms to protect the mouth of Perdido Bay.

Bottom falls out of drilling support
Just before the spill, Floridians supported offshore drilling by more than a two-to-one margin. Now we oppose it, according to the latest poll from Quinnipiac University.

In the wake of the Gulf oil spill, Florida voters oppose 51 – 42 percent increasing the amount of offshore oil drilling, a 48-point swing from the 66 – 27 percent support for drilling in an April 19 survey.

A Washington Post-ABC poll finds similar results nationwide, and adds that people tend to blame BP and its regulators.

The new Post-ABC poll reveals a widespread perception that poor federal regulation was at fault in the gulf spill. About 63 percent point a finger at inadequate enforcement of regulations, and 55 percent see an overall weak regulatory structure. Even more, 73 percent, blame BP and its drilling partners for the accident. And the same number are calling the spill a major environmental disaster.

Florida researchers call for BP cash
State scientific organizations want their share of some $500 million in grants the company has promised to study the spill’s effects.

Leading the charge is the dean of the University of South Florida’s College of Marine Sciences, William Hogarth. The request follows a wave of media coverage that has carried USF’s name from the New Zealand Herald to Al-Jazeera to Rolling Stone.

The proposal calls for the $100 million to be split between 21 Florida schools and marine science organizations, as soon as possible. Hogarth and leaders from other schools, working under the umbrella of the Florida Institute of Oceanography, were spurred to action after talking to BP leaders last week.

Hacking the spill: An innovative combination of kites and cameras offers unique aerial views.

Slow to grow: The Washington Post reports that as offshore drilling increased, the amount of regulators did not keep pace.

Casting doubt: Scientists continue to raise questions about “official” spill estimates.

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