Attorney General Eric Holder says he’ll try to address oil spill claims concerns


DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday that he would try to address concerns about the oil spill claims process, while indicating that the federal government would help BP find other companies to shoulder costs.

Holder said that he would convene a task force of federal and coastal officials for response to a proposed claims protocol sent out by presidentially appointed administrator Ken Feinberg earlier this week.

Alabama Attorney General Troy King blasted the proposal in a Tuesday letter, saying it would cut off claims 90 days after the spill is capped and allow just one final claim after that.

In addition, the proposal would make claimants waive their rights to file lawsuits or additional claims against BP PLC.

Holder said it was clear that the economic effect of the spill would be felt for years. But he would not say whether he believed people who receive claims checks should sign away their rights to sue.

A spokeswoman for Feinberg said that he was unavailable for comment Wednesday and that he would not make the proposal public until it was finalized.

“The focus should be on protecting the Gulf states and making sure everyone is made whole,” King said.

Chris Bence, a spokesman for King, said Feinberg called King on Wednesday morning and asked to meet and address King’s objections. Bence said the meeting will be held Friday at King’s office in Montgomery.

A spokesman for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said that the governor also believes the proposal is too restrictive and will meet with Feinberg on Thursday to discuss it.

King, along with the attorneys general from Mississippi, Florida, Texas and Louisiana, met with Holder for more than two hours Wednesday morning in downtown Mobile.

Jim Hood of Mississippi said Holder recognized the flaws in Feinberg’s plan.

“This is going to go on for three, five, 10 years after the spill is stopped,” Hood said. “(Feinberg) can’t treat it like 9-11. This is a continuing problem. I think he’ll get that message from the White House, from the attorney general and from us five attorneys general.”

Hood was referring to a compensation fund for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which Feinberg administered.

It was Feinberg’s experience with that and other funds that led President Barack Obama to put Feinberg in charge of the claims process after complaints of slow payments and arduous paperwork when BP was in charge.

The company agreed to put $20 billion into an escrow fund over the next four years to meet claims.

That’s in addition to the money the company has spent so far on cleanup and efforts to cap the well — an estimated $3 billion, according to company officials.

So far the British oil giant has been the only company shouldering such costs, but Holder indicated that the federal government plans to hold other companies involved in the spill liable as well.

“We’re bound and determined to hold all of them accountable,” he said.

BP is the majority owner of the well that has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at an estimated rate of 2.5 million gallons of oil a day. Two other companies also own stakes — Texas-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. owns 25 percent and Moex Offshore, a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Mitsui & Co., owns 10 percent.

The spill began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20. Switzerland-based Transocean owns the rig and was leasing it to BP. Houston-based Halliburton was pumping cement slurry into the drill hole prior to the Horizon’s explosion.

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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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