Crist: We Need to Ban Oil Drilling Off Florida

Calling the spill that has released millions of gallons of oil onto four Gulf States "a devastating, catastrophic event," Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said he wants an end to oil exploration off his state's coastline.

In addition to plugging the leak at the site of BP's destroyed Deepwater Horizon rig, Crist said this morning that "We need to stop offshore oil drilling in Florida.

"I would like to have a special session to ban it here in the Sunshine State," he told CBS "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith. "We're so dependent on tourism for our economy, it's very important that we keep [the beaches] clean."

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Crist joined other protesters in Hands Across the Sand rallies held this weekend in Florida and across the U.S. and in other countries, promoting renewable energy sources and demanding an end to offshore drilling.

Last year the Republican-controlled Florida House voted to end a nearly two decade ban on drilling, to allow oil and gas exploration 3-10 miles offshore.

Opposition in the State Senate and by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., almost killed the proposal, but a compromise allowed for drilling 125 miles off the coast.

Gov. Crist has proposed a constitutional ban on drilling in the state's waters.

When asked about the safety of swimming at Florida beaches, Crist said, "We're always concerned, and that's why we continuously test, just to make sure that it is safe for the people to go in there. Our first obligation is the health, safety and welfare of our people. It is safe. There isn't a toxic nature to it that is detrimental to anybody. It's much more of a nuisance than it is anything else at this point, but it is safe."

Crist said he'd gone swimming at Pensacola. "Really, the beaches have been beautiful this weekend. I mean, that is a little bit of a frustration that we experience. Sometimes you're doing an interview like this and next to you on the screen is a picture of a bunch of sludge. As you can see this morning, our beach is beautiful."

Crist said scientists' models projecting the impact on the state's beaches are unclear.

He said his biggest frustrations so far have been: "Number one, I can't believe that BP would allow this to happen in the first place. Number two, I'm frustrated with the response. We need to get a quicker response, more skimmers. That's starting to improve, frankly, but we've got to stay on it and make sure we get the skimmers and all the heavy equipment that we need, and that's happening.

"And then the claims process - I'm not a scientist. I don't know how to plug the hole out there, but we have an obligation to make the people whole, and these small businesses."

Crist said he will meet this week with Kenneth Feinberg, the mediator appointed by President Obama to oversee the disbursement of the $20 billion escrow fund paid into by BP. Crist hopes to accelerate the process that many have called slow and insufficient.

"That $20 billion is a nice number but we've got to put it into action. That's what the people need," he said.