U.S. Rep. Bonner unimpressed by Feinberg’s latest claims announcement, says he’s ‘lost trust’


MOBILE, Alabama – U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner is not impressed with Gulf Coast claims czar Ken Feinberg’s new rules governing final payments to people and businesses damaged by this summer’s oil spill.

The Mobile Republican, who has called for a Justice Department investigation of Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility, said that he has no confidence in Feinberg’s protocol for final payments or the Claims Facility’s ability to pay remaining emergency claims by Dec. 15.

“Mr. Feinberg’s new offer is simply a new verse to the same old song of unfulfilled promise on top of unfulfilled promise,” Bonner said in an e-mail. “Like many business owners who have been abandoned by Mr. Feinberg, I have lost all trust in his ability to manage the claims process or in his credibility in following through with new promises.”

Feinberg did not specifically respond to Bonner’s letter to the Justice Department. But he said he is troubled by the concerns Bonner has expressed to him directly.

“I have a very high regard for Congressman Bonner. I consider him a very important and credible constructive critic,” he said. “One does not ignore Congressman’s Bonner’s criticism. … And I plan to deal with the problem.”

Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility this morning also released a 54-page study by a Harvard Law School professor that Feinberg said demonstrates people indirectly affected by the oil spill likely would have much narrower legal claims to compensation than they would get from his claims process.

Claims for final payments will be open to all residents and businesses, whether or not they sought emergency relief and even if they were turned down initially, Feinberg said. Under the process laid out by Feinberg today, those initially opting for interim payments could ask for a lump sum at any time until the claims process ends Aug. 23, 2013.

Feinberg said the quarterly payments would be deducted from the final check. He said claimants very well could get more by accepting a one-time payment up front.

Feinberg also detailed appeal options for claimants and for BP, which agreed to put up $20 billion to fund the claims process.

People and businesses with claims exceeding $250,000 can appeal to a 3-judge panel that soon will be set up. BP also can appeal Feinberg’s decision to pay if claims exceed $500,000. His spokeswoman, Amy Weiss, said the BP appeals process is mandated by the federal Oil Pollution Act.

Also, after 90 days of no decision, or if a claim is denied, any claimant can appeal to the U.S. Coast Guard and then to federal court.

“I am determined to be more generous than the courts would be or the Coast Guard would be,” Feinberg said.

BP spokesman Justin Saia said the company would defer comment to Feinberg.

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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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