Gulf Paymaster Asserts Independence From BP, Obama Administration


Kenneth Feinberg, the official charged with administering the $20 billion escrow account for oil spill victims, spent part of his July 4th holiday asserting his independence from the authorities that gave him his mandate.

“I work for the people of the Gulf region,” Feinberg said on “Fox News Sunday.” “I answer to neither BP nor the administration.”

Feinberg insisted he would serve as an independent voice despite being hired by President Obama and paid by BP to do his job. Pressed on whether the Obama administration should make public the legal document detailing the agreement with BP about the fund, Feinberg separated himself from the matter.

“That escrow money, I’m assured by both the administration and BP, will be there,” said Feinberg. “I do not want to interfere with what is private discussions, at least under way between the administration and BP. I am an independent third party, beholden to neither. And I want to move forward with what I’m supposed to be doing — processing those claims in the Gulf.”

Feinberg has been visiting communities in the Gulf region to discuss how claims will be paid. No funds from the escrow account have yet been distributed.

“The $130 million that has been paid out (to victims) so far is not part of the $20 billion,” he explained.

The Washington-based lawyer, who ran the compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, said he will take into consideration not just state laws, but also maritime law and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, to determine how much will be paid to each victim.

Feinberg said he will also factor in “my discretion in terms of equity and need.”

“Oil — physical presence of oil should not and will not be the only requirement” to qualify for claims payment, Feinberg said. ” There are going to have to be some tough decisions made as to who is eligible and who is not eligible.”

Feinberg said BP and the Obama administration have yet to determine what entity will administer the $100 million bucket of funds promised to those affected by the six-month deepwater drilling moratorium. Feinberg said the moratorium payments — separate from the escrow fund — will be administered as a one-time, fixed payment specifically for workers on deepwater rigs that now stand idle as a result of the government edict.

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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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