If changes aren’t made to the ground rules, Alabama Attorney General Troy King said Monday, the state might file suit over Ken Feinberg’s proposed oil spill claims process.
“In its current form, Alabama would have a basis for litigation,” King said in a phone interview. “I hope it doesn’t come to that. The people of the Gulf Coast don’t need lawsuits and arguments between the governments that are supposed to be protecting them.”
Ken Feinberg, the oil spill claims czar, said Monday afternoon that he is trying to incorporate suggestions from King and other states’ attorneys general so that the operation draws the maximum number of affected people.
“I’m trying to avoid that possibility,” Feinberg said of King’s lawsuit suggestion.
King said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell will be joining King in Montgomery on Friday to write a counter-proposal that they will send to Feinberg. King said his counterparts in Texas and Florida may be able to attend, as well.
Hood’s office said that he was unavailable for comment Monday.
Shortly after oil began spilling into the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, BP PLC — the majority owner of the leaking well — started paying claims to fishermen, shrimpers and tourism industry employees who are unable to work because of the disaster.
But in June, after complaints of slow payments and arduous documentation requirements, President Barack Obama got BP to agree to a $20 billion escrow account, which Feinberg was tapped to administer.
Feinberg ran similar compensation claims for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Virginia Tech shootings, among others.
On Thursday and Friday, Feinberg held a series of town hall meetings throughout Mississippi and Louisiana and laid out the basic framework for the process.
In the next week or two, people will be able to file for an emergency payment that would cover six months of lost income without giving away their rights to sue BP.
Interim payments would stop 90 days after the spill is capped. At that point, claimants can file for a one-time, comprehensive payment that will be the last check they receive from BP. To accept that check, they have to sign away their rights to sue BP.
Last week, Feinberg sent a working copy of the rules to King and other officials in the spill-affected region.
King responded with a letter to federal and Alabama officials complaining that the right-to-sue provision, among others, was “contrary to the public interest.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with King and other coastal attorneys general in Mobile last week and afterward said that the state lawyers and others would form a task force to respond to Feinberg’s proposal.
King said he spoke to Feinberg on Monday, and the claims czar said that he is still revising his rules and trying to take into account the concerns of the attorneys general.
“That’s another reason that it makes no sense why (Feinberg’s) out talking about them,” King said. “But what can I say? He’s from Washington. Many times they don’t seem to get it.”
Feinberg, through a spokesperson, has refused to provide the Press-Register a copy of the claims rules. Alabama Gov. Bob Riley also declined to share the document on Friday, saying that it was a work in progress.
Feinberg said that none of the rules are yet set in stone, but that he held the town hall meetings to explain “what the process will likely look like.”
Feinberg said that while he wants input from King, Hood and others, the final rules decision is his.
“Neither the administration nor BP has asked that I get their permission,” he said. “Ultimately it’s my call.”
“He was hired,” King said. “Nobody that was hired can’t be fired.”