BP keeps hitting new lows


In a weird way, you have to give credit to BP. Every time that you think the British oil giant has hit a new low in trying to back out of its commitments to the people of the Gulf Coast — after destroying our most precious natural resources –, they manage to drill down a little lower. Just think about it: In recent months, we’ve seen BP go into court to try to undo the same Deepwater Horizon settlement that it had advocated for months earlier, challenge a number of individual claims, run full-page newspaper ads ridiculing some of those seeking compensation, and even recently shut down its direct claims program — stiffing business owners who lost large streams of income in the wake of the oil company’s recklessness.

What’s missing from the narrative, though, is the increasingly vicious, petty and small-minded nature of the attacks from BP. This oil giant which makes tens of billions in profits every year — even after its negligence in 2010 at the Deepwater Horizon rig caused 11 deaths and the leak of an astronomical 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf — doesn’t want you to believe that it is the villain in this story. In BP’s new stab at what amounts to fiction, the bad guys are instead small business owners trying to recoup some of the money they lost during the long crisis, along with some of the public servants and the attorneys trying to help them in the recovery.

This weekend, the Lafayette, La., newspaper had a fascinating — and appalling — piece looking at the personal attacks launched against the claims administrator in the BP case, a local attorney named Patrick Juneau, and others who pointed out the extent of the carnage.

Here’s an excerpt:

 Yet Juneau, recruited to be settlement administrator in spring 2012, remembers BP began challenging decisions made by him, the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants he recruited and Barbier (the judge in the case) almost from the start. As the year elapsed, BP’s attacks on Juneau became increasingly personal.

“My wife and friends began asking me why I didn’t just give this up and enjoy my fishing camp on the Atchafalaya Basin,” said Juneau, who has a New Orleans apartment a short walk from his office, but spends weekends in his Lafayette home. “The attacks on my reputation are painful. I’ve had a long career that I’m proud of and never encountered anything like this. But I feel a duty to see this process out to its end.”

He smiled ruefully. “If I’m alive to see the end.”

The story also notes:

Loyola law professor Blaine LeCesne said the attacks on Juneau are unwarranted.

“The attacks on Mr. Juneau are beyond the pale and would not be considered good form by most oil companies,” LeCesne said. “I can only guess this is part of BP’s scorched earth legal strategy since Mr. Juneau has gone out of his way, too far out of his way in my opinion, to placate BP.”

As the Lafayette article points out, the process for paying out these claims was negotiated and agreed to by BP back in 2012 because it was a fast and relatively fair way to compensate the many businesses that suffered some type of loss. The formula is not perfect — that would be impossible — but it’s the best, proven technique that would allow not just the people of the Gulf Coast and, for what it’s worth, BP itself, to put the spill behind them.

What’s tragic is that in raising such a ruckus and calling people names, BP has been able to somewhat gum up the works. For example, earlier this year the rules for accounting for losses were changed mid-stream, so that now, according to one writer, “additional hurdles for farms, law firms, construction outfits and other businesses that use cash-based accounting” have been created and approved.

 In addition, the Lafayette newspaper raises concerns because one of the three jurists who is now overseeing the claims,  Judge Edith Clement, “sits on the board of the Foundation for Research into Economics and the Environment, a controversial conservative think tank that argues for less federal regulation of environmental matters.”

In other words, rather than putting the ugly spill in the rear-view mirror, BP — the company that is liable for this situation in the first place — is causing unhappiness and new acrimony instead. It has been blindsided by the sheer volume and size of the claims, because it cannot comprehend how much damage was caused by its carelessness. And now, this large multinational corporation  is acting like a spoiled and petulant child, lashing out, calling names, and refusing to make good on what it promised. They should be ashamed.

To read the entire Lafayette story about the struggles of claims administrator Patrick Juneau, check out:    http://www.theadvertiser.com/story/money/business/2014/07/05/lafayette-lawyer-takes-heat-handling-oil-spill-claims/12254737/

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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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