Why we are Feinberg’s ‘sore point’


In light of Ken Feinberg’s observation last week that Alabama has become “a sore point” for his oil-spill claims operation, let’s get something straight: The people who have filed legitimate requests for compensation are not asking for favors or looking for a hand-out.

All they want is what was taken from them.

If the fact that they’re raising hell with politicians, the news media and anyone else who’ll listen gets on Feinberg’s nerves, too bad.

When BP spilled 200 million gallons of oil in the northern Gulf of Mexico this past spring and summer, it destroyed jobs, took profits and wiped out businesses on the Alabama coast.

The spill gutted the summer tourism season, too, which meant that cities, counties and the state lost hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tax revenue.

We are demanding full compensation for the businesses and the people who’ve suffered, for two reasons: because they deserve it, and because when they’re made whole, the economy here — and, thus, life in general — will improve for all of us.

When the White House named Feinberg to head the claims process, he promised transparent, fair and swift payments. Instead, the process has been slow, unevenly applied and shrouded in mystery.

Some people and small businesses have been paid in full. But a lot of businesses have gotten crumbs — as little as 10 percent of what they’re owed.

Remember when you were in grade school and your math teacher reminded pupils to “show your work” on tests so she’d know how you arrived at your answers? When the bean-counters at Feinberg’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility send out checks, they don’t feel any obligation to show their work to anyone. Nobody gets an explanation for the amounts paid or unpaid.

Who wouldn’t complain about such shoddy treatment?

Yet when Alabama politicians present their constituents’ concerns to the White House and the news media, Feinberg apparently considers the state a whiner.

When the central Gulf Coast’s largest and most influential newspaper asks the White House to fire Feinberg, as the Press-Register’s editorial page did last month, he shrugs and says, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Sounds to me like the elected officials and the newspaper are doing their jobs as advocates for people who’ve been hurt, who’ve filed for compensation according to Feinberg’s rules, and who are receiving much less money than they’re due.

Perhaps if the claims czar were doing what he’s supposed to be doing, then politicians and the news media wouldn’t have to be doing what they’re doing.

Go ahead and imply that we’re a pain in the you-know-what, Mr. Feinberg. Keep saying in interviews that an “enormous” amount of claims have “absolutely no documentation,” so people elsewhere in the country will infer that coastal residents are greedy.

But here’s the bottom line: The oil spill sucked a huge amount of money out of our already-fragile economy, and we want it back.

When you deliver on your promise to fairly compensate us, then we’ll cease to be your “sore point.”

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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