Sen. Nelson: Spill Could "Alter Our Way of Life"

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., on "Face the Nation," Sunday, June 6, 2010.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., on "Face the Nation," Sunday, June 6, 2010.

Sen. Bill Nelson is warning that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could have a long-term economic impact if the oil is not stopped soon enough.

"If they don't get this thing cut off, and 'Hallelujah' if they do, there's going to be a lot of oil there in the Gulf sloshing around. It is going to considerably alter our way of life along the Gulf, and it could be along the Atlantic Coast as well," the Florida Democrat said on Sunday's CBS' "Face the Nation."

Nelson told host Bob Schieffer about the economic impact that is already being felt in his own state, even though the amount of oil that's reached the coastline along the Florida panhandle "wasn't that bad" as of now.

"The bad part is that people think that there's oil there," said Nelson, who visited the state yesterday. "They're canceling their fishing trips . . . canceling their hotels. They're not going into the restaurants because they're not coming. They are canceling orders of our fish houses because they're afraid that the seafood is tainted."

As a result, "there is a huge economic impact that is beginning to be felt," he said.

Nelson stressed that they are not going to have to close the beaches on Florida's panhandle "at this point."

"Those are the world's most beautiful beaches," he said. "There are just a few tar balls. The good news is that the forecast as far in advance as Tuesday is that it is still not coming on shore."

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Nelson expressed the frustration of many along the Gulf Coast.

"Everybody is stressed to the limit," he said, "You're hearing the frustration coming out of my voice. I'm expressing the frustration of those people who live there, whose livelihoods are going away. I'm expressing the frustration of those fishermen who can't go out and fish now because if they're a charter boat, nobody is coming. Or if they are fishing for a living, the fish houses are not buying their fish because the houses elsewhere around the country are not ordering it."

The senator also addressed his calls for the military to do more in the response effort. He said that although he thinks the Coast Guard is doing a "great job," the response will require a lot more if the oil still spilling from the capped well head is not stopped soon.

"If it continues all summer, then you're going to have so much oil out there, there is going to be so much impact all along the coast that you've got to have the best command and control organization in the world. That's the U.S. Military," he said.

"Now, of course, the Coast Guard and the military are working hand in hand. But the Coast Guard is stretched to the limit right now. Those guys are going just as hard as they can go. They barely have time to get rest and sleep. If this thing continues for months in advance, you're going to have to bring in the best organization for it - for coordinating assets, command and control, getting information right now."

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who was Sunday, said the military and the Department of Defense have done all that's been asked of it so far.

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"We have used the military where it's appropriate," Allen, the point man for the federal government response, said. "The military doesn't have skimming capacity, the types of things you do for oil spill response is not a capacity or a competency. Where they have helped is transportation. You see the things we used to move the booms from Alaska … When we need something from the D.O.D., I'm satisfied with their support. "

Allen added that he's in constant communication with Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and that he would use more military resources if needed.

"We're constantly looking at that," he said. "Is there anything novel we haven't thought of yet? We have planners working on that continuously."