The long-term impact of the Gulf Coast disaster could be relatively minor, the government-appointed compensation chief said Monday, and the Gulf is likely to fully recover from the April oil spill.
Speaking to USA TODAY’s Editorial Board in a year-end interview, Ken Feinberg said his optimistic prediction is based on opinions the government has solicited from experts.
“We’re asking everybody right now, scientists, biologists, give us your best estimate of the status of the Gulf,” Feinberg said. “We’re hearing right now, not much long-term adverse impact.”
Kert Davies, director of research for the environmental group Greenpeace, says Feinberg’s assessment is premature.
“We’re talking about a very complex system, and it’s impossible to say there’s minimal long-term impact at this point,” Davies said.
Scientist are still collecting data, he said. “I don’t think we’ll understand the full extent of the impact for five or 10 years.”
Feinberg acknowledged that some scientists disagree and said that’s why the claims fund “will do our best to give a generous final-payment option.”
Feinberg expressed confidence that the $20 billion fund created by oil giant BP should be more than enough to cover claims. And he says the government-run claims program will be more generous than any court.
The program has already paid out $2.5 billion to 170,000 individuals and businesses, about a third of all claimants, Feinberg said.
He said the government is urging claimants to choose one of three options:
- File for final payment, based on scientific opinions about the future of the Gulf. In return, claimants must waive the right to sue anyone involved.
- File for quarterly payments based on documented damages, reserving the right to sue, until Feinberg’s mission expires in 2013.
- File for “go away” money. Aid recipients who can’t document any more damage can receive $5,000 for an individual (or $25,000 for a business) to settle future claims.
One goal is to minimize lawsuits, though Feinberg, who managed the government’s compensation fund after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, says his offer will likely be faster than courts.
Of 450,000 Gulf claims, which came from 48 states, 2,500 are suspicious. So far, 50 have been referred to the Justice Department and in the next few months, hundreds more will be, Feinberg said.
Mike Voisin, an oyster processor from Houma, La., agrees that ecological damage does not seem severe. But he says the reputation of Gulf seafood has taken a hit. “We’ll have scars from this,” he said.