Bill Nelson Archives - Florida Politics

Bill Nelson: Graham/Cassidy would ‘eviscerate’ Medicaid

During a low-key Jacksonville media availability with our site and a couple of local TV stations, he was handed a magenta post-it note during questions about the Graham/Cassidy health care bill.

That note’s content, per Nelson: “John McCain has just announced that he’s going to vote against this latest version — which is very similar to that last version he voted against.”

“The indication is that the Senator from Kentucky [Rand Paul] is voting no. If Sen. Susan Collins of Maine votes as she indicated she’s going to vote,” Nelson continued, “then the vote will end up being the same vote that we had last time, which was the last week of July.”

Some good news for the Senator, who obviously opposes the bill, on a Friday afternoon.

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Before being passed the note, Nelson had noted that “this latest version of the health care bill was something that had been voted on many times. It basically would throw 30 million people off of health insurance, and it would completely end Medicaid as we know it, by cutting out $700 million over ten years.”

“For the state of Florida,” Nelson added, “it would cut out $20 billion out of Medicaid over a decade. This is not something that should be done, and again it’s going to be a razor thin vote that we’ll have next week.”

Razor-thin, indeed.

“The debate and the vote this coming week is whether you’re going to end Medicaid as we know it for poor people, disabled, and veterans,” Nelson said, and “whether or not some 30 million people will lose health insurance that they have under the current law.”

“That’s the debate,” Nelson continued, “that’s what we’re going to be voting on this week.”

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After being passed the note, his answer was essentially the same.

“When [repeal] cuts out some 30 million people from their health insurance,” Nelson said, “no, I don’t think that’s good for the country. It’s certainly not good for those people who have health insurance now, for the first time.”

“And to cut Medicaid for poor people and disabled and senior citizens in nursing homes as well as veterans, to cut away their health care by eviscerating Medicaid, no — I don’t think that’s good. And that’s why I’ve voted as I have.

Bill Nelson relates his and Marco Rubio’s Irma trek, cites climate change

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson outlined to the U.S. Senate Monday his and U.S. Marco Rubio‘s post-Hurricane Irma tours of Florida describing destruction, tragedy and challenges from the Keys to Jacksonville, and called attention to climate change as a factor.

Nelson, a Democrat, on Monday also sent letters to the chief executives of 10 major U.S.-based airlines urging them to cap their airfares for people fleeing the path of Hurricane Maria, which is bearing down on the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, among other Caribbean islands.

Nelson’s speech on Hurricane Irma, given from the well of the U.S. Senate, was full of praise for federal agencies  such as FEMA, the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the military for responding quickly and strongly, as “Floridians helping Floridians. Americans helping Americans.”

And Nelson also used the speech to push for the value of those agencies, and for legislation and language in legislation he intends to push, some of it jointly with Rubio.

At least for Nelson, that includes his push for language in a bill the Senate actually was taking up during his speech, climate-change readiness for the military, included in the Defense Programs Authorization bill (House Resolution 2810.)

Nelson cited the hurricanes, including Hurricane Harvey that struck Texas, hailstorms in Texas damaging military aircraft, coastal erosion in Florida and Alaska, threatening early-warning radar in Alaska, wildfires in the west, flooding of a logistics rail in Louisiana, and military warehouses in Virginia.

“And so, as we turn to this defense bill, this is an issue for national security. As Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said, and I quote, “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” Nelson said.

“And so that’s why in this version of the defense bill that we will pass today, there’s a provision in there that this senator had something to do with which calls for the defense department to conduct a comprehensive assessment of threats to the training and readiness of our armed forces and the military infrastructure caused by climate-related events.”

Nelson wrote that provision.

 

Gwen Graham: Hurricane Irma showed Florida isn’t as prepared as it should be

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham believes Florida should have been better prepared to handle the impact of Hurricane Irma.

“The state of Florida was not ready for this storm,” Graham declared Saturday night. The 54-year-old attorney and former Tallahassee-area congresswoman made the comments while delivering the keynote address before a record crowd at the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee’s annual Kennedy-King Dinner in downtown Tampa.

Graham said the destructive storm – which hit the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane last Sunday morning before moving its way through the state, proves that state lawmakers need to address climate change and comprehensive hurricane preparedness.

Considered the establishment favorite, Graham began her 19-minute speech by talking about the selfless acts performed by Floridians throughout the state during what was an excruciatingly stressful time.

Graham’s Hurricane Irma experience involved setting up and supervising a shelter at Richards High School in Tallahassee. She said that all the preparations had been done correctly at that shelter, “but when the power went out across the state of Florida, it became clear that we were not as ready as we needed to be.”

Governor Rick Scott has received mostly laudatory reviews, even from Democrats, for his handling of the storm. But Graham didn’t go there. She insisted that her criticisms weren’t political , but practical, saying that the state has to be better prepared for when the next major hurricane comes Florida’s way.

“They have been decades in the making,” she said about the lack of proper preparation. “Hurricanes have grown stronger, but the state has not done nearly enough to prepare us for the changes we’re witnessing.”

Graham blasted Scott for prohibiting state agencies for even using the words “climate change,” and said she would act in a completely different and proactive way in trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Florida. Those measures would include joining states like California and New York in what is being called the U.S. Climate Alliance, a coalition of U.S. states committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement and taking aggressive action on climate change. She also said she would ban oil drilling off Florida beaches and ban fracking throughout the state.

Referring to how the roads running to North Florida were clogged for days as people evacuated before Irma’s arrival, Graham criticized Scott for not reversing southbound traffic on the major interstates and state roads. But she said the state wasn’t prepared to do that because that would have cut off gas and emergency crews from reaching South Florida.

“Supplying every community is vital, which is why the state must develop a plan before the storm, capable of reversing highway lanes and also allowing for providing crucial needs for those south,” she said. “The day will come when we must reverse traffic to once again evacuate major cities, and the state must have a plan and a willingness to do that.”

Graham then spoke about the biggest tragedy connected to the storm – the news that eight elderly patients died at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after the nursing home lost power. Democrats have seized on the incident, with U.S. Senator Bill Nelson calling it “an emerging scandal of gargantuan proportions.” Graham has called for an investigation and made a public information request for Scott’s cellphone records shortly after a CBS affiliate in Miami reported Friday that the executives at that nursing home called Scott’s cell phone asking for help getting their power back on.

Graham cited legislation proposed in 2004 that would have considered safety measures to protect seniors in nursing homes — legislation that she said was stopped by industry lobbyists who said it was “too expensive.”

“Eight Florida seniors died because our system failed them,” she said. “They died, in part, because elected leaders failed to see the real cost, the human cost.”

Graham then threw a jab at House Speaker Richard Corcoran, saying that an hour after the media first broke the news about the deaths in Hollywood, Corcoran was tweeting about tax rates. “It’s a sickening example of how the politicians in Tallahassee have the wrong priorities for the wrong people,” she said.

Corcoran is contemplating a run governor; Adam Putnam and Jack Latvala are the only two major Republicans to have entered the race to date.

The other two Democrats in the race are Orlando-area businessman Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who showed up to the VIP party before the dinner began and earlier spoke to more than 100 people at a Tampa craft brewing pub.

Still lurking in the shadows are two Democrats who bring tremendous financial resources to the race if they opt to enter it – Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and attorney/entrepreneur John Morgan.

DEC officials said 450 tickets were sold to the event, the most in the history of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party.

Local Democrats Karen Clay, Betty Castor and Tom Scarritt were all given awards earlier in the evening.

Rick Scott could get political boost for leadership in Irma

Standing tall in a NAVY cap, Florida Gov. Rick Scott will be an enduring image from Hurricane Irma. Seemingly everywhere but the eye of the storm, he was there on social media urging millions to evacuate, calmly taking charge at emergency briefings, even delivering early word of devastation in the Keys after a much-publicized flyover.

Politically, that image of calm before the storm couldn’t come at a better time for Scott.

Nearing the end of his second term, the conservative Republican has some of his highest approval ratings as he contemplates challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in next year’s election. Even Democrats acknowledge Scott did a good job communicating about Irma. And at least for a time, that could boost Scott’s popularity after he repeatedly said a run against Florida’s senior U.S. senator is something he’d consider.

“The initial response has been positive. He’s been available to every media outlet short of Radio Free Europe. I think that’s very smart and it appears that he presents a competent image,” said Mitch Ceasar, a former state Democratic Party chairman. “I look for Scott to have a short-term bump; whether it lasts will depend on how well the recovery goes.”

Nelson also toured hard-hit communities and had Irma media availability. But the prominent Capitol Hill Democrat was overshadowed during the storm as all eyes fell on the state’s chief executive.

If Scott runs, as President Donald Trump encouraged when the two toured hurricane damage Thursday, it would give Nelson his greatest challenge since being elected in 2000. But it wouldn’t be easy for Scott. Nelson is the state’s most popular Democrat. A champion of the space program, he also fought to protect Florida beaches from offshore drilling and helped secure billions in federal dollars as Florida recovered from four devastating hurricanes in 2004.

When he first ran for governor, Scott was cast as a mega-millionaire former hospital chain CEO trying to buy that office; he barely won in a year other Republicans had huge victories. Then Scott squeaked by for re-election with less than 50 percent of the vote. Though he often comes across as robotic and scripted, his popularity has grown as Florida’s economy improves. And now he can point to his leadership during Irma should he challenge Nelson.

A similar scenario of a governor getting a boost by disaster was played out in 2004. Then-Republican Gov. Jeb Bush’s approval rating soared that year, jumping from 47 percent before the hurricane season began to 62 percent at the peak of storm season, according to Quinnipiac University polling.

The woman who was Bush’s communications director that hurricane season and when three more hurricanes hit Florida the following year sees similarities in the way the Scott has communicated with Floridians.

“He has been the voice of calm and I think people look for that in a crisis. He provided Floridians with comfort and assurances that help was on the way,” said Alia Faraj, now a public relations manager in Tallahassee for a major group.

Nonetheless, Scott’s office was criticized as the crisis unfolded for restricting media access to emergency management briefings – something never done before. And the flow of information on critical issues after Irma has been slowed as the governor’s office clamped tight control over messages coming out of state agencies. Reporters have publicly complained, and the Capitol Press Corps is planning a meeting next week on whether to take action to try to improve the information flow before another storm hits.

“Everybody has their own style, but I share the philosophy that any information you can get out to people that could be helpful to them, the sooner the better,” said former governor and current Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist.

Scott also was criticized by some – notably conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh – for causing too much panic before the storm, leading to gas and water shortages and causing some to evacuate hundreds of miles only to find themselves threatened when Irma shifted directions.

Still, Scott has received praise from many for his constant presence in the storm. His social media communications during Irma included video of state troopers escorting fuel trucks down highways when supplies ran scarce and YouTube videos of Scott touring battered areas by helicopter.

Hospital administrator Catherine Pezzoti of Miami said she didn’t have strong feelings about Scott before Irma. Now the 28-year-old independent voter thinks differently.

“He was on top of everything. He did extremely well,” said Pezzoti. “I am impressed.”

Former Florida Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox, now a Tallahassee city commissioner, also praised Scott.

“During times of crisis, all partisanship is forgotten,” said Maddox, a participant in daily conference calls with Scott and emergency officials. “I was impressed with Gov. Scott’s handling of this storm.”

Whether it plays in the next election is another question, he said.

“Any time you do your job well it helps you when you’re seeking the next job, but Bill Nelson is a Florida icon,” said Maddox.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Democrats batter Rick Scott over nursing home tragedy

Democratic candidates for governor are hitting Gov. Rick Scott and others hard in the wake of eight deaths in a South Florida nursing home that lost its air conditioning as Hurricane Irma hit the state.

But Scott’s office defended the governor’s actions, saying the facility never reported “that conditions had become dangerous.”

A criminal investigation by Broward County law enforcement in underway into the deaths at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, including whether they were heat-related or from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum called for an independent investigation, slamming Scott for giving out “a special priority phone line – then fail(ing) to act when they received distress calls.”

“I am calling for a full independent investigation into this matter,” Gillum said in a statement. “The investigators must have full access to all public records and transcripts of communications, meetings, and conference calls between the Governor, his Office, and healthcare facilities in preparing for Hurricane Irma.

“In Tallahassee, we learned after Hurricane Hermine that communication is vital between first responders, government, and our most vulnerable populations,” Gillum added. “This year we took the proper steps of assigning utility workers as direct points of contact with nursing homes and other urgent care facilities, and we prioritized their power restoration during Irma.”

Former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham also issued a statement that she had filed a public records request “for all call logs, text messages, and voicemails to a private emergency phone number Rick Scott distributed to healthcare providers.”

Scott, a Naples Republican, was formerly head of a for-profit hospital chain.

“There must be an immediate, independent investigation into reports Gov. Scott distributed a private line to healthcare providers and then ignored pleas for help,” Graham said. “It is 100 percent the governor’s responsibility to do everything in his power protect every Floridian.”

But Scott spokesman John Tupps said in an email “every call made to the Governor from facility management was referred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health and quickly returned.”

“At no time did the facility report that conditions had become dangerous or that the health and safety of their patients was at risk,” he said. “In fact, on Monday, Department of Health staff advised this facility to call 911 if they had any reason to believe that their patients were not safe.”

The office also provided background material that the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills “reported into the state’s facility status monitoring database 17 times since Thursday, Sept. 7. Throughout the course of these reports, the facility never requested any assistance or reported the need for evacuations.”

Until 1:30 p.m. this Tuesday, “the facility reported that they had full power, that heating, cooling systems and generator systems were operational and they had adequate fuel.”

By 5 p.m. that same day, “the facility reported that they had partial power, but that their heating and cooling systems and generator were operational. They did not request anything beyond help with FPL,” referring to Florida Power & Light.

Then on 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, “the facility (again) reported that they had partial power, the generator was operational and they had adequate fuel supply. At that time, they reported their heating and cooling systems were not operational.”

A joint statement from the Department of Health and Agency for Health Care Administration Friday evening added that it is “100 percent the responsibility of health care professionals to preserve life by acting in the best interest of the health and well-being of their patients.”

“Let’s be clear—this facility is located across the street from one of Florida’s largest hospitals, which never lost power and had fully operating facilities,” the statement said. “The tragic and senseless loss at Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center is the subject of a criminal homicide investigation by law enforcement.”

In an interview with FloridaPolitics.com earlier Friday, Winter Park businessman Chris King lashed out over what he described as longtime state neglect of senior housing concerns.

“The Broward tragedy I think is another example exposing what I hope I’m getting across throughout the state, which is for a very long time there’s been very little leadership on housing and on aging issues,” King said.

“My concern is less on what happened in Broward and more the decision making that created that environment, and why we’re still not out of the woods in the larger issues of housing and aging, and why the state is in an absolute crisis,” he added.

Scott is term-limited as governor next year but is said to be considering a run for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

Bill Nelson wants cable, internet providers to give Floridians a post-Irma break

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asked the nation’s largest cable, telephone and internet providers Thursday to give Hurricane Irma victims rebates for service interruptions.

He also requested the companies provide a 60-day moratorium on late fees, interest accrual and penalties to give people time to recover from the worst storm in the state’s history.

“As we begin the recovery process, it’s important that consumers not be saddled with late fees and other necessary costs – particularly those without the means to deal with those costs,” Nelson said in the letter.

The letters were sent to the CEOs of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Enterprises, Frontier Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

In Florida, 18 percent of cell sites were down, according to Federal Communications Commission data released Wednesday. But more than 85 percent of cell towers in a six-county area of Central Florida regained power by midday Wednesday.

Nelson is trying to prevent the companies from billing during the lapse in service.

Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile have agreed to waive text, call and data overage fees for its services through Friday. While AT&T extended their waiver through Sunday. T-Mobile is offering free calls and texts to all Central Florida area codes.

VA hospitals to take in nursing home residents, Bill Nelson says

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will make beds in VA facilities available to residents of Florida nursing homes that have no power, Sen. Bill Nelson said Thursday.

Nelson said he saw that the VA had done so with refugees from the U.S. Virgin Islands, accepting them into the VA hospital at Puerto Rico, and asked them Wednesday, before news of the horrific six-death incident in Hollywood, if the same could be done in Florida.

“I called the VA secretary [David Shulkin] yesterday,” Nelson said. “He said, ‘Absolutely!’ He said, ‘You have my authority to make that happen.'”

Nelson said he’s now working with an assistant secretary to get it done.

Nelson said he is not certain how many beds might be available in Florida’s VA facilities.

The VA issued a release Thursday saying that Shulkin has been working with both Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Nelson and their staffs on this issue beginning yesterday evening.

“We thank Governor Scott and Senator Nelson for involving VA and are grateful we can help our fellow citizens where we can in this time of need,” Shulkin stated in the release. “All Americans are pulling together to help one another, and we must make a special effort for those most vulnerable to the conditions brought on by the storm.”

The VA has the ability to make its facilities available to non-veterans as part of its fourth mission, to support national, state and local emergency management, public health, safety and homeland security efforts and also through a mission agreement with FEMA under a Stafford Act Declaration.

Shulkin agreed to make more beds available to non-veteran nursing home residents as needed and free, while ensuring we continue our primary mission of providing healthcare to Veterans, the release stated.

The VA is also working closely with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the overall response to Irma, in addition to this specific issue.

FEMA declares individual disaster relief for Polk, Pasco

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has now amended their initial Federal Disaster Declaration to include Pasco County and Polk County for individual assistance.

The declaration now will allow individuals in both counties affected by Hurricane Irma to receive recovery support and disaster assistance.

“This is so important because there are many people suffering throughout my district,” said Congressman Gus Bilirakis of Tarpon Springs. “This financial support will go a long way in helping residents as they recover from Hurricane Irma.”

Added Polk County-area Congressman Dennis Ross: “The people of Polk County desperately need this relief. Folks have lost everything and have suffered so much.”

Residents of those counties can now make claims for individual assistance through FEMA by visiting www.disasterassistance.gov or by calling (800) 621-3362.

Ross represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District, which includes parts of Hillsborough and Lake Counties, in addition to Polk. Bilirakis represents Florida’s 12th District, which encompasses parts of Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties, in addition to Pasco.

Both GOP congressmen indicated in respective press releases that it was only thorough their lobbying that residents in their districts can now get federal assistance from the hurricane.

“Since before Hurricane Irma made landfall, I have been fighting tirelessly to ensure those in my district and throughout the entire state of Florida are safe and have the resources and information needed to protect themselves,” Ross said. “I have spoken to FEMA every day, multiple times a day, for nearly a week now to assess the status of and fight for relief for my district and the counties I represent.”

Ross is also calling on the IRS to postpone certain deadlines for taxpayers who reside or have a business in the declared disaster area, something that Florida’s U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson also called for.

“I ask that you use all means within your authority to provide appropriate administrative relief to taxpayers affected by the storm—including a delay in quarterly estimated payments, a delay in tax filing deadlines, and a moratorium on private debt collection proceedings,” Nelson, a Democrat, said Tuesday.

After Irma, state politicians descend on Jacksonville

Hurricane Irma’s impact stopped being felt in Jacksonville Monday afternoon, and it was soon thereafter that Gov. Rick Scott was in town.

Scott, who added Duval County to his ask for a major disaster declaration post-Irma on Monday evening, visited a local hurricane shelter with New York Mets’ minor league prospect Tim Tebow, a legend in these parts for his tenure as Florida Gators’ quarterback a decade ago.

Duval will join St. Johns, Flagler, Clay, and Putnam as Counties benefiting from federal help, which includes reimbursement for debris removal and individual assistance for those whose properties were impacted by the storm.

Tuesday saw Scott surveying damage from the sky, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. The two reprised a role last seen in the wake of Hurricane Matthew 11 months prior, with Scott coming to town to assess damage after that storm.

After Gov. Scott’s visit, Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio made trips to the Duval Emergency Operations Center early in the afternoon.

Each arrived separately, and each had their own takes on the storm and the path forward afterward.

Nelson noted that, in addition to the 365 water rescues that were made in Duval County when the storm surge came in, there were 120 rescues in Clay and St. Johns.

Nelson described the hurricane as a “very unusual one, that covered the entire state,” one with “real surprises” for everyone.

Water was the big surprise for Jacksonville, of course, as the storm surge flooded the city for hours on end Monday.

“Water … surprised places like North Florida,” Nelson said.

The storm drew strength from turbocharged waters on each side of the peninsula, of course. Nelson noted that “measurements show that sea level has risen eight inches over the last40 years” off the Miami Beach coast, a rise that was accompanied by the heating of the ocean itself.

“That is expected to increase,” Nelson said.

Miami Beach, said Nelson. has had to spend “tens of millions of dollars on expensive pumps” to deal with a mean high tide — and floods are still part of life down there.

“If that’s happening when there’s not a storm, what happens when there is a storm? We’d better get ready for it, because it’s happening before our very eyes.”

Nelson also addressed post-Andrew building codes, noting that the Florida Legislature passed a law to relax those codes.

He’s not a fan of that move.

“Let’s keep these strong building codes,” Nelson said, noting that there was a vast difference in how new construction and older buildings fared during Irma on Florida’s Southwest coast when he toured it earlier this week.

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Rubio actually agreed with Nelson regarding the building codes.

“People may not like it, but you know when you’re in a house rated post-Andrew, you have a lot more security about what that means for you and your family, and I hope we don’t walk away from that,” Rubio said.

And he had a lot more to say besides.

Regarding the individual assistance authorized by President Donald Trump for individuals impacted by the storm, Rubio noted that time was of the essence regarding disbursement.

“How many people will not be able to go home for a long time … if you lost your home, you can’t go home tonight, we’ve got to get you that money quickly,” Rubio said, noting that local governments — such as Jacksonville, still owed $26M from the federal government for the last storm — are not able to shoulder that burden.

“There are communities waiting three or four years,” Rubio said in reference to Jacksonville’s cash crunch, citing a “backlog” that needs improvement.

“Small businesses” likewise need SBA help.

A “week or two without revenue,” Rubio said, may be the end for them.

Rubio also addressed Nelson’s contention that sea level rise contributed to this storm.

“Irrespective of the broader debate about its causes, you can measure sea level. And when you start to see flooding at high tide at many communities across Florida, when you start to see military installations critical to our economy and our state threatened by it, there are some things you need to do, and some things you can do.”

“There are some things you can do to mitigate,” Rubio said, though he called it a “whole other debate” when this reporter suggested that strategies are elusive to cool the water down that energizes these storms in the first place.

Flooding at high tide, Rubio said, is an “accelerating process.”

We asked Rubio if the Trump Administration was particularly equipped to handle the challenges created by what some call global warming.

“Again, we’re talking about mitigation. And when it comes to mitigation, it’s an infrastructure need,” Rubio said, a “critical” one.

Bill Nelson asks Dept. of Energy to address Florida’s gas shortage

Just because Hurricane Irma has left the state doesn’t mean that everything is back to normal in the Sunshine State.

Take gasoline, for instance. It’s still hard for many Floridians to gas up, which is a major problem with so many people  wanting to return to their homes.

Referring to how the U.S. government created a separate gasoline supply reserve for the Northeast after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York and New Jersey, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson is calling on the Department of Energy to create a similar reserve supply for Florida in the wake of the storm.

“A Florida Gasoline Supply Reserve would ensure that residents and first responders have access to an emergency supply of fuel, and help prevent the shortages that may have kept some from evacuating and may hinder recover efforts going forward,” Nelson writes in a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

After Hurricane Sandy hit and caused widespread issues related to the availability of gasoline, the Energy Department responded by establishing the U.S. Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve (NGSR), the first federal regional refined petroleum product reserve containing gasoline.

The gasoline reserve was established as part of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). It consists of 1 million barrels of gasoline blendstock and is stored in commercial storage terminals in Maine, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Coincidentally, the Trump administration acknowledged in their budget proposal for 2018 that they would like to sell off that entire reserve. A sale would offset $69 million of discretionary spending, with any additional proceeds going to the U.S. Treasury’s general fund for deficit reduction, the proposal says.

Meanwhile, the Port of Tampa has announced that three  petroleum vessels were expected to bring fuel into Port Tampa Bay when it reopened this afternoon. Spokesperson Samara Sodos says that dozens of tanker trucks were loaded with gas (with fuel stored at Port Tampa Bay), and continue to be filled right now.

“They are delivering fuel to the Tampa Bay area and beyond,” she said in a statement.

Listed below is Nelson’s text to Perry.

Dear Secretary Perry:

I write today regarding the gasoline shortages that occurred in Florida prior to landfall of Hurricane Irma, and are likely to persist in the days and weeks that follow.

I appreciate efforts taken to date by the Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to try to expedite the flow of gasoline shipments into Florida in the wake of the storm.  At least some of these efforts, however, appear to have been hampered by the apparent lack of adequate gasoline reserves in Florida prior to the storm.

Unfortunately, this was also the case in the Northeast U.S. after Superstorm Sandy – where some communities waited weeks for gasoline shipments after the storm.  These shortages hampered relief and recovery efforts in many communities.  In response, the Department created a Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve (NGSR) in 2014 to ensure an emergency gasoline supply for future natural or man-made disasters in that region.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, I urge you to consider using your authority to create a similar gasoline supply reserve for the State of Florida.  A Florida Gasoline Supply Reserve would ensure that residents and first responders have access to an emergency supply of fuel, and help prevent the shortages that may have kept some from evacuating and may hinder recover efforts going forward.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this critical issue.  I look forward to hearing from you soon.

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