Oil spill administrator says he’s staying put


WASHINGTON — The man in charge of compensating people and businesses for financial losses from last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill said Wednesday he doesn’t plan to leave the post anytime soon, despite reports he might be asked to handle a different job.

“I have no intention, none, of leaving anyone in the Gulf in the lurch,” Kenneth Feinberg, head of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, told reporters in a conference call. “It would be inappropriate for me to walk away and leave this program in limbo. I think the program is working.”

Republican U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana wrote the White House on Friday opposing any move to divert Feinberg’s attention from the compensation fund. The lawmakers cited news reports that Feinberg might be asked to head a fund to compensate 9-11 first responders for health care costs. Earlier, Feinberg headed a fund to compensate victims of the 9-11 attacks.

“Too often, we have to fight to make sure the people of the Gulf Coast get fair treatment,” Wicker said in a statement.

The claims fund is financed by $20 billion from BP, which operated the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded last April, triggering the massive oil spill.

Cochran said in a statement that moving Feinberg from the claims facility post “would be a setback and unnecessarily disrupt the work to help those hurt by the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.”

Gulf Coast lawmakers have criticized the facility for a lack of transparency and slow and inconsistent payments.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who wants a federal judge to oversee the claims process, said he also wants it to be more transparent and faster.

Feinberg said the administration has not approached him about another job.

“I’ve got enough headaches administrating the Gulf Coast Claims Facility,” he said.

But he refused to say during a Capitol Hill hearing last week that he wouldn’t consider other jobs. Vitter said he was disappointed with that response.

Feinberg took a firmer position Wednesday.

“I want to ensure everybody I have no intention, none, of leaving this Gulf Coast Claims Facility job undone,” he said.

Also Wednesday, the claims facility posted proposed criteria for determining final and interim payments. The facility will begin making those payments after a two-week public comment period expires Feb. 16.

Claimants have three options:

An expedited payment ($5,000 for individuals and $25,000 for businesses) that requires claimants to waive their right to sue.

A less immediate “final” payment that may be larger but requires more documentation. Claimants must waive their right to sue.

A quarterly interim payment that requires documentation of damages and can cover through August 2013. Claimants don’t have to waive their right to sue.

“There is no one-size-fits-all here,” Feinberg said. “Every claimant should choose one of the three options, carefully consider them and decide what they want to do.”

The center has paid $3.3 billion in emergency payments to about 168,000 people.

Feinberg said 87,000 people have opted for expedited payments. More than 90,000 have chosen final payments and 40,000 have opted for interim payments.

More than 200,000 claims have been denied. Claimants can appeal decisions or denials to the U.S. Coast Guard, Feinberg said.

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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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