Another Voice from Alabama Blasts Claims Process


Frances Coleman is editorial page editor of the Press-Register newspaper in Southern Alabama and is fast becoming a major voice in blasting the BP claims process being administered by Kenneth Feinberg.

Writing over the weekend, she is asking (and, given she’s an editorial page editor, actually answering) the query: Why is Alabama Feinberg’s ‘sore point’? She is responding to Mr. Fenberg’s recent comment that the state has become a “sore point” for his efforts. Alabama remains alone in suing BP. The state’s attorney general has issued a “consumer alert” over Mr. Feinberg’s claims process. Governor Bob Riley has equated the compensation process to “extortion,” and he has now called for President Obama to step in.

Ms. Coleman wastes little time, saying in her opening “… let’s get something straight: The people who have filed legitimate requests for compensation are not asking for favors or looking for a hand-out. All they want is what was taken from them…if the fact that they’re raising hell with politicians, the news media and anyone else who’ll listen gets on Feinberg’s nerves, too bad.”

Of course, the Press-Register is a big deal across Alabama, both in print and with its website. But the paper resonates well beyond the immediate region. In Washington, Alabama’s powerful congressional delegation – including two U.S. senators with new relevance given the mid-term elections – are likely quite sensitive to Press-Register coverage.

Here’s a prediction: Politically, the situation in the Gulf is about to get VERY ugly, even by recent standards, as the new Congress comes into power at the start of next year. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives will be anxious to investigate the Obama Administration (the majority party pretty much has its way regarding investigations), while the Democrats will no doubt respond with their own. I expect their frustrations with the House will lead to investigations from Senate panels, which have been relatively rare in recent years (mostly we see probes originating from the House).

The Press-Register remains focused. Recent stories looked into local elected officials who took spill cleanup money under “emergency provisions” that suspended their usual bidding process. And when the paper recently became the first mainstream media outlet to seek Mr. Feinberg’s resignation, it immediately became a leading voice in what many in the Gulf feel is resistance to the national “it’s over” narrative.

Ms. Coleman writes what amounts to an open letter to Mr. Feinberg, telling him to “… go ahead and imply that we’re a pain in the you-know-what, Mr. Feinberg. Keep saying in interviews that an ‘enormous amount of claims have absolutely no documentation,’ so people elsewhere in the country will infer that coastal residents are greedy. But here’s the bottom line: The oil spill sucked a huge amount of money out of our already-fragile economy, and we want it back. When you deliver on your promise to fairly compensate us, then we’ll cease to be your ‘sore point.'”

It’s worth pointing out that Ms. Coleman has been ahead of the opinion curve before. Even back in the summer, she was asking “what happened to the Coast Guard of Katrina?” and suggesting that BP was really calling the shots. That’s consensus wisdom now, but then it was quite a bold statement.

Check out Ms. Coleman’s writing 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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