WHAT’S THE holdup, BP? How about some of that $20 billion?
You promised six weeks ago that you’d deposit $20 billion into an independent claims fund to help oil spill victims. Yet there’s not one red cent in the account.
Granted, you stipulated that the money would come in installments over the next 3½ years. Well, then, where’s the first installment?
It’s not going to play well on the national scene if businesses start to topple like dominos along the Gulf Coast. Yet that’s what is going to happen if things continue as they are now. Generations of companies that have limped through May and June are going to be lost forever if help doesn’t arrive quickly.
Sure, you’ve written some checks — about 26,000 of them, totaling more than $48 million. But payments of mostly $1,000 or $5,000 are a piecemeal effort — useful for bragging rights, but only barely enough to keep the claims system alive.
Now even that trickle of cash is being capped, as claims agents wrap up their duties and pack up their checkbooks. After July, they say, no more checks to individuals or businesses will come straight from BP. Payments will have to be made by the fund run by claims czar Kenneth Feinberg.
That sounds good, except that without a deposit in the bank, Mr. Feinberg is equipped with nothing more than the authority to listen.
On one such “listening tour” recently, he urged the people of the Gulf Coast to trust his claims fund to make them whole and warned that foregoing such an opportunity in order to pursue a lawsuit might leave them stranded.
Sadly, stranded is the state many people are now in.
Consider the plight of the business owners who are struggling in the beach communities. Their buildings might not be slimed with oil, but their sales have all but dried up, and their mortgages are two months overdue. Such “large loss” claims aren’t the quick-and-easy type for BP to handle, so they’re getting pushed to the back of the line, leaving owners to wonder if they should just close up shop and leave the keys on the bank’s doorstep.
Seeing their pain, some local leaders have even called for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to request a federal disaster declaration from President Barack Obama. Why not? The least the president can do is make good on promises in his first Oval Office address that BP would set aside “whatever resources are required to compensate workers and business owners,” and that “the fund will not be controlled by BP.” So far, however, BP has controlled the fund simply by delaying to make a deposit.
Time is of the essence. On Wednesday, it will have been 100 days since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, killing 11 men, placing the ecosystem at risk and threatening a way of life along the Gulf Coast.
Back then, BP apologized and said it would make things right. But how long will it be before the claims fund is ready to go? Another 100 days?