Troy King blasts oil spill compensation plan; attorney general and surgeon general to visit


MOBILE, Ala. — Alabama Attorney General Troy King on Tuesday attacked proposed rules for handling BP oil spill claims, a day before his planned meeting with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in Mobile.

Surgeon General and southwest Alabama native Dr. Regina Benjamin will join the parade of high-ranking officials making visits to the area today.

Also Tuesday, Baldwin County officials said that they had found a way to repair problems with protective boom after complaints to BP drew little response.

Holder’s Mobile meeting should include legal officials from affected states — King, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and a top assistant from Florida. Kenyon Brown, the U.S. Attorney for the Mobile area, will also attend. Afterward, Holder planned to visit areas affected by the spill and meet with reporters on Dauphin Island.

Tuesday, King wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, Holder and Alabama officials urging Obama to scrap Kenneth Feinberg’s proposals for administering the BP oil spill compensation fund.

“The document appears collusive at best and contrary to the public interest at worst,” King wrote to Obama.

King said he was shocked that states hadn’t been asked for input before Feinberg and BP reached the ninth draft of the plan. He called it “an illegal attempt” to limit BP’s liability under federal law. He also said that it aimed to keep people who have suffered damage out of state courts by making them sign a release waiving lawsuits or additional claims against BP.

“The federal government, especially the executive branch, has no business usurping state court jurisdiction and meddling in the state law liability arising from the oil spill,” King wrote.

Spokesman Chris Bence said King was concerned about a proposal that would cut off interim claims 90 days after the spill was capped and allow just one final claim after that point. Right now, BP PLC, majority owner of the Deepwater Horizon well leaking in the Gulf, is making interim payments as losses go along. But Bence said that losses could continue for months or years after the spill is stopped.

King also said that the process as described in the current draft was dense with legalese.

A spokeswoman for Feinberg said late Tuesday that she hadn’t seen the letter and couldn’t reach Feinberg for immediate response.

Benjamin addresses mental health

Benjamin will speak at a public forum at St. Margaret Catholic Church in Bayou La Batre at 10 a.m. Wednesday. She and others plan to discuss mental health issues created by the spill.

Benjamin, who founded a clinic in Bayou La Batre before being appointed by the president, has urged people to seek mental health treatment.

Benjamin also plans visits to Orange Beach, Biloxi and Pensacola.

Cleanup, repair issues in Baldwin

With little oil now hitting south Baldwin beaches, BP has begun cutting hours for shoreline cleanup crews, a Unified Command official said. Through what BP calls a “flexible work schedule,” it is trimming time for 15,000-plus workers.

After what Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency Director Leigh Ann Ryals categorized as weeks of frustration and confusion, her office gave county commissioners a new plan aimed at simplifying deployed boom maintenance requests.

Ryals, together with BP officials from the branch office in Orange Beach, devised the plan.

“If a citizen sees damaged boom, they should report it directly to county EMA employee Scott Wallace,” at 251-937-0317 she said.

BP spokesperson Ray Melick acknowledged his company had fallen behind on boom maintenance, in part because of bad weather, but said the new plan would streamline the process.

Fish dead in Weeks Bay

Biologists investigated a fish kill of menhaden in a canal off Weeks Bay in the Barnwell area.

Nicole Shaffer, a marine biologist with Alabama’s Marine Resources Division, said that she collected water at the site where several thousand young menhaden floated. The cause won’t be known until tests are complete.

Lyons Bousson, who’s lived for six years on the northern-most of the three canals, said he sees fish kills at this time nearly ever summer.

Reports from several fishermen and Press-Register trips in recent weeks indicate a migration of menhaden, bay anchovies and mullet into the Mobile Bay estuary.

In oil reports Tuesday:

Gulf Shores, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and the Fort Morgan peninsula: An afternoon flyover spotted “rainbow sheen and dispersed subsurface oil” along the beaches of Gulf Shores and parts of the peninsula.

Orange Beach, Weeks Bay/Magnolia Springs, Fairhope, Daphne, Spanish Fort, Dauphin Island: There were no new reports of oil as of Tuesday afternoon.

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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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