Gulf of Mexico oil-spill claims process to be examined by legislative committee


Frustrated with the work of BP claims czar Kenneth Feinberg, state House and Senate leaders have formed a special committee designed to add a new layer of transparency and oversight to a process they describe as haphazard.

The committee will be chaired by Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, and is expected to hold its initial meeting this month.

Senate President Joel Chaisson II, D-Destrehan, said the committee was formed in response to numerous complaints from constituents about the way Feinberg is handling the nearly 200,000 spill-related claims filed by Louisiana individuals and businesses with the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

Feinberg has come under criticism by BP for being overly generous in his claims-disbursement methodology, and by various Gulf of Mexico oil-spill victims who say they have been treated unfairly.

“The committee is the result of significant dissatisfaction with the way the claims process is being handled,” Chaisson said. “It was significant complaints from constituents who feel they have not been treated fairly by the process. We’d like to get some answers as to why that is.”

Leger said he has heard numerous stories of people and businesses being treated unfairly, including cases where a company’s employees were paid for losses but the company itself had its claim rejected.

“If (Feinberg) is not BP’s lawyer … he has a duty to be open and transparent and to share the process of how this is working,” Leger said.

The panel will be similar in scope to a special committee created after the 2005 hurricanes to oversee the recovery. It will have the power to subpoena witnesses, but will not be able to force changes to the claims process.

Chaisson’s appointees to the committee are Senators A.G. Crowe, R-Slidell; J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans; Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans; and Butch Gautreaux, D-Morgan City.

House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Algiers, could not be reached for comment on whom he will appoint to the committee besides Leger.

Jan Moller can be reached at or 225.342.5207.

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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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