BP oil spill claims process flawed


TALLAHASSEE — In 24 hours, BP oil spill claims czar Ken Feinberg heard criticism from Florida’s governor, attorney general and House members over transparency and efficiency within the Gulf Coast claims process he oversees.

“This (transparency) is the No. 1 issue,” Feinberg said before the House economic affairs committee Friday. “This is my Achilles’ heel.”

Feinberg, chosen by BP and approved by the Obama administration to oversee a $20 billion claims fund, said he is close to releasing new rules for awarding payments that will address concerns of state and national leadership. The rules should debut later Friday.

The facility, he said, plans to offer claimants better explanation of what to expect when filing a claim and why a claim is accepted or denied. The changes also would, he said, beef up staff in claims offices to answer questions face-to-face versus a 1-800 number.

The last change would provide for an additional appeal, but only for those whose claims exceed $250,000. Under federal law, the Coast Guard hears all appeals but has agreed with the facility’s decision in every instance, Feinberg said.

“I’ve already been criticized for slowing down the process,” he said. “I don’t want a flood of intermediate appeals. I’d rather those people go directly to the Coast Guard and get their money quicker.”

Feinberg met with Gov. Rick Scott late Thursday afternoon. He met with Attorney General Pam Bondi before coming to the House meeting Friday morning.

So far, eligible claimants have received $3.5 billion, with more money going to Floridians than any other state, Feinberg said. “We are doing something right,” he said.

Most of the unapproved final payment and interim payment claims are “woefully lacking in basic documentation,” he said.

Several House members asked prepared questions about the appeals process, transparency and quick-pay claims. In opening remarks, Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, said “the perception is that the current process is broken.”

Midway through the hearing, a dozen or so Asian-American hotel owners, mostly Indian, interrupted Feinberg’s response and stormed out of the meeting, saying Feinberg has neglected obligations to the Gulf Coast and lied. The group has urged hotel guests to boycott BP products, said spokesman and Pensacola hotel owner Nash Patel. The group was joined by Southern Christian Leadership Conference Florida chairman, Art Rocker.

Back in the meeting, Feinberg defended criticism that he is not independent of BP because the oil company funds the claims efforts. Feinberg questioned if not BP, who should pay for the offices and staff? The government? Claimants?

“BP, obviously to me, is the only entity that can pay all 100 percent of the costs of administering this program,” he said.

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

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