Image: Clean-up crews on Pensacola Beach
Michael Spooneybarger  /  AP
Clean-up crews work on Pensacola Beach in Pensacola, Fla., on July 11.
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updated 7/20/2010 6:30:19 AM ET 2010-07-20T10:30:19

For decades, billions poured into Gulf Coast states that allowed oil drilling off their shores. Economies grew, jobs were created and millionaires were born all along the waterfront. Everywhere, that is, except Florida.

People of all political stripes largely banded together in the Sunshine State, united in opposition to offshore drilling and confident the peninsula's $61 billion tourist-driven economy hinged on a pristine environment. Fearing the doomsday an accident could bring — or simply the sight of rigs from beaches — Florida rejected drilling.

But doomsday came anyway.

As Floridians see their white sand beaches getting fouled by the spill, many are angry at their Gulf Coast neighbors.

"They don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to crying about the oil," said Gregg Hall, a 48-year-old Pensacola Beach resident who walks the shore daily looking for signs of the spill's impact. "They contributed to it."

Resentment is brewing in the Florida Panhandle over slumping tourist dollars, a fishing industry that has been hamstrung, and the possibility of plunging property values. And while much of it is aimed at BP and the government, there is recognition that the decisions made by neighboring states have hurt Florida.

"I love Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana, but it's Florida first for me," said Gov. Charlie Crist, who has ordered a special legislative session to consider a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether to permanently ban offshore drilling in state waters. "Here is the single loudest wake-up call ever as to why we've done that in Florida: Because it is not risk free."

'We don't do this stuff'
Grover Robinson, a commissioner in Escambia County, home to Pensacola, said Florida should get any aid first because it had no role in the catastrophe.

"I know we're all in it together," he said. "But Florida's injuries are greater because we don't do this stuff."

All the other Gulf Coast states — Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas — have drilling operations off their coasts. Louisiana, which produces the vast majority of oil in the Gulf, has allowed drilling since 1947.

"They made that decision to do what they've done over the years," said P.C. Wu, a city councilman in Pensacola, where oil has washed onto the beaches, causing some tourists to flee. "What's happened here is going to cost a lot of money but it's something that we were completely opposed to."

Tourism is Florida's top industry, drawing about 81 million visitors a year, employing more than 1 million people and accounting for 21 percent of sales tax revenues in a state that has no income tax.

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Beaches in the Florida Panhandle, the only ones so far affected by the spill, have long drawn visitors to their sugary white sands.

Tourism is important to the other Gulf states hit by the spill, but it's not the dominant industry as it is in Florida. Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana drew a combined 63 million tourists last year, according to state figures, generating $23.2 billion in spending.

State and federal laws govern who controls different parts of the Gulf. In general, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama control an area extending about 3.5 miles off their shores while Texas and Florida claim about 10.4 miles off their coastlines.

In Florida, some companies had leases to drill off the Panhandle before a 1981 federal moratorium on new offshore drilling. They were grandfathered in and continued their activity off and on into the early 1990s.

But by and large, Florida's leaders have stood against drilling in the last several decades, regardless of their political party affiliation.

"People really value our beaches and our coastal economy," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida. "It just was considered a mandatory for political leadership here to be against oil drilling off Florida's coast."

That began to change two years ago as gas prices reached $4 a gallon. Crist, who in his 2006 gubernatorial run opposed any drilling off the coast, said in 2008 he was more open to the idea as he campaigned with the Republican presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain. A year later, he shifted even further, saying he was "open minded" about a bill that would have allowed rigs within a few miles of beaches.

But then the Deepwater Horizon explosion happened April 20. Now, Crist wants a permanent ban on offshore drilling in the state.

Florida's long-standing wariness of offshore drilling has allowed a feeling of martyrdom to creep in to this state where, in hindsight, the decision to keep oil rigs away from the shoreline seems pretty smart.

"When something goes wrong with one of those oil rigs it doesn't just affect those states that have basically been selling out to the oil industry," said Kenneth Welch, a commissioner in Pinellas County, farther south along the Gulf Coast on the Tampa Bay. "We won't know for years, I think, what the real impact is, not only to tourism and to our tourism-based economy, but the impact of a million gallons of dispersant."

Dave Rauschkolb founded the anti-drilling group Hands Across The Sand after the issue came up in the state Legislature. He owns three Panhandle restaurants along the beach, is a lifelong surfer and an avid fisherman. The decisions of other Gulf states, he says, are motivated by money, but have a far wider effect.

"There are some things that we need to see not only in economic terms. The soul of America is being lost because of things being seen only in economic terms," he said. "They'd have to be blind and deaf to not see how their actions affect the other Gulf states."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Oil leaking from cap on ruptured well

  1. Transcript of: Oil leaking from cap on ruptured well

    WILLIAMS: Good evening.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: For a couple of days now there's been no oil coming out of that BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico . It's not the permanent fix, we've been told. That can only come when those relief wells break through. But it's been a great relief knowing new -- no new oil, at least, is flowing in on top of the three-month supply that has already ruined parts of the gulf. But then over the last 24 hours came the first hints of trouble, word of other leaks from somewhere down there. The question is, is there a problem with the pressure inside that same well? We begin our reporting tonight with our chief environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson , in Venice , Louisiana , again this evening. Anne , good evening.

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good evening, Brian . It's been a tense 24 hours for BP engineers and government scientists, who've disagreed on how extensively to monitor that cap at the bottom of the sea and just what the test results mean. But tonight they agree that this test will go forward for another 24 hours . What was a picture of hope is now a mystery at the bottom of the sea. The government says, almost two miles from the troubled well head , there is a seepage on the ocean floor, just one of several problems discovered during the test.

    Admiral THAD ALLEN, Retired (National Incident Commander): We do know that there is some seepage around the base of the -- of the blowout preventer in terms of gas bubbles that are coming up, and that's what we're focusing on right now. But it does not appear to be, at this point, that it's a consequential problem.

    THOMPSON: There's also a leak from the bottom of the new cap, issues that taken together aren't enough to stop the test, but casts doubts on BP 's ability go keep the well plugged in until the relief well is finished.

    Adm. ALLEN: I think it would be very, very premature to say that the well is shut in until a relief well is done.

    THOMPSON: Inside the cap the pressure level is now at 6,811 pounds per square inch , far lower than what government scientists expected. Administration officials say two day sago they were very worried, but now they see the increasing pressure as a positive trend.

    Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): If we thought that the pressurization test itself potentially did damage to the sea floor , obviously we would -- we would stop that immediately.

    THOMPSON: What does concern everyone is the fear of bad weather. Tonight some experts say BP and the government should go back to containing the oil and save the ability to shut in the well for an emergency.

    Professor STEVE WERELEY (Purdue University): If a hurricane comes along, it would be possible then to shut in the well just like it is today and disconnect all the surface ships and take them to a safe port and leave the well shut in, and not stress the well until that rainy day comes.

    THOMPSON: And that rainy day may come sooner than most people would like. Forecasters say there is some weather developing north of Puerto Rico that could become a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico by this weekend. They're keeping an eye on that, while BP and government officials keep an eye on that

    cap a mile underwater. Brian: Anne Thompson at her now three-month-long post in Venice , Louisiana ,

    WILLIAMS:

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Above: Slideshow (15) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 4
  2. Image: Economic And Environmental Impact Of Gulf Oil Spill Deepens
    Mario Tama / Getty Images
    Slideshow (64) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 3
  3. Image: Oil Spill In The Gulf
    Digitalglobe / Getty Images Contributor
    Slideshow (81) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 2
  4. Image: Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico
    Hans Deryk / Reuters
    Slideshow (53) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 1
  5. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Slideshow (10) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Rig explosion

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