Alabama Gov. Bob Riley Isn’t Playing Along with Fienberg; Equates Claims Process to “Extortion”


One thing about southern governors, they are not accustomed to being told to shut up and go along with things. And when Alabama Gov. Bob Riley equates the BP claims process to “extortion,” you can bet a lot of people in D.C. begin to fidget.

Gov. Riley’s comment to the Press-Register newspaper that “… if you have the capacity to turn them down with no explanation and make them sign away their right to sue, that’s extortion” is already going viral and will no doubt be a call to arms in some Gulf communities. You don’t need much legal training to understand that contracts entered into under duress – like victims on the brink of losing their homes or businesses or families – aren’t exactly fair.

Riley, as reported by the Register, “is concerned that underpayments by Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility will force businesses to prematurely sign away the right to sue BP PLC.”

We’ve said repeatedly that time is on BP’s side. The more they push victims to the brink, the more likely those victims are to give up or give in. It’s really hardball “Negotiation 101” – but here it’s being done by a process created with President Obama’s stamp of approval.

Let’s face it, there’s never been any hint of transparency in this claims process. Not in the rules, not in the results and not in the reporting. We begin with Mr. Feinberg, early on in the process, insisting that his compensation level is between him and BP, and we continue on into arbitrary underpayments and claim denials. You cover your back on those shortcomings by announcing only the total number of claims paid and the total amount paid out – big, misleading numbers.

Gov. Riley is targeting those same statistics, telling the Press-Register that he’s asking for President Obama to step in. And he’s requested more meaningful reporting in a letter to Feinberg. From the Register:

Riley’s Friday letter to Feinberg asked for information including:

  • The total number of claims filed and number paid in full.
  • The number of claims asking more than $100,000 and paid in full.
  • The number of claims asking more than $1 million and paid in full.
  • The number of claims paid at less than 25 percent, 25-50 percent and 50-75 percent of the amount requested.

If you’re connecting the dots, don’t forget this one: The states, with the exception of Alabama, have largely played along so far. This high-profile protest from Riley – aimed directly at the Obama Administration – may change that situation very quickly as state residents wonder why they lack a similar advocate.

The Press-Register story is here:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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