Despite the continued insistence of public relations hacks employed by the oil company hell known as British Petroleum that all in the Gulf is either well, or quickly on the mend, troubles persist:
“Researchers are trying to determine whether more than 100 dolphins stranded on the Texas coast, most of them in Galveston, died because of the BP oil spill, a deadly algal bloom or some undetermined cause.
The strandings also come after a NOAA study found that dolphins in Barataria Bay on the Louisiana coast were in poor health because of exposure to oil. Dolphins in the bay, severely affected by the spill, had low weight and liver and lung ailments.”
“Gloom infects the hard-working shrimp and crab docks of this gritty fishing town as the second full year of fishing since BP’s catastrophic oil spill kicks into high gear.
Usually folks are upbeat and busy in May, when shrimpers get back to work in Louisiana’s rich waters. This spring, though, catches are down, docks are idle and anxiety is growing that the ill effects of the massive BP oil spill may be far from over.
An Associated Press examination of catch data from last year’s commercial harvest along the gulf — the first full year of fishing since the 2010 spill — reveals merit in the fishermen’s complaints. According to the analysis of figures obtained through public-records requests, seafood crops hit rock bottom in the Barataria estuary, the same place where some of the thickest waves of oil washed in when a BP well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.”
So color my less cynical side surprised to read this:
“BP is pushing for a $15bn (£9.7bn) settlement with the American authorities to resolve all civil and criminal claims relating to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, substantially less than the $25bn demanded by the US department of justice.”
Okay, so an immediate question springs to mind:
What the fuck is there to even be negotiating about?
This damned company, by way of error kills eleven people and screws an ecosystem, then goes about obscuring flow rates during the response…is in negotiations to lower the dollar amount on penalties they’ll incur as a result of their very costly shenanigans…nice. This is the company taking responsibility. This is the company with all them fancy television commercials. This is the company whose smiling (dick)head Bob Dudley looks on warmly to reassure everyone not living on the Gulf Coast just how righteous, humble and truly sorry he and his corporation truly are…while on the Gulf, where people continue to pay attention, the facts do not bear this out…this guy…I tell ya.
He’s in negotiations with the justice department and reports are these talks are “accelerating.”
Yeah, but accelerating to what?
One more screw-job for the Gulf? One more in a really long list of shenanigans shoved onto a region, poisoning its environment for decades and almost destroying New Orleans, one of this nation’s great cities?
Unlike the Corps, BP must be held accountable, completely.
Maybe for the first time in what, who knows how long anymore, it’s time for the government to stop listening to what’s good for a company and pay closer attention to the people said company screwed.
But after watching these GOP fucks this past year…it would seem idealism is the only thing they want us to have anymore.
Jim Hood, Mississippi Attorney General, has finally prevailed over Ken Feinberg.
It was back in February when Hood filed a subpoena against Ken and the GCCF, requesting to see the records of claimants who had given their permission for such a review, and it was a subpoena Feinberg at first ignored, then denied and fought, arguing its validity should be heard in court, but not in a Mississippi courtroom, it should be heard in a Federal Court.
US District Judge Carlton Reeves said nahhhh; he dismissed Feinberg’s request for a stay, which would have stopped all proceedings until it was decided whether the subpoena should be included in the MDL proceedings in Barbier’s Court in New Orleans.
“Until a transfer to a (MDL) has become final, a district court’s jurisdiction over pretrial matters is in no way impeded,” Reeves said. “And when a litigant improperly removes a case, the limited jurisdiction of federal courts is impermissibly invoked, resulting in an undue delay of a state court’s rightful duty to address a case’s merits.”
So back to Hinds County Chancery Court court we go…the court where Hood filed his suit against the GCCF back in July because of Feinberg’s unwillingness to respond.
“We have maintained all along that this issue belonged in a state court since we brought it under state law, and we are obviously pleased that the judge agreed with us,” Hood said in a press release. “We would hope that the GCCF and Mr. Feinberg could just do the right thing by the law and comply with our subpoena.”
Hmm…I’m thinking uh, well, good luck with that…
“If the GCCF has nothing to hide, why have they gone to such efforts to avoid compliance?” asks Hood. “We intend to find out.”
I sure hope so, because waiting for this independent federal audit promised by US Attorney General Eric Holder is really getting to be a drag…
Ken Feinberg, British Petroleum employee and steward of the BP claims fund wrote himself a little editorial the other day in Bloomberg Businessweek titled: How to Give Away $5 Billion. The article came complete with an illustration of a man, presumably Ken, holding a money bag while outstretched, demanding hands come in from outside the border of the drawing and there, in a nutshell, is everything that’s wrong with the GCCF and Ken’s dismissive attitudes.
The people of the Gulf Coast are not looking for a hand out.
They are looking to be compensated for damages from the worst environmental disaster to ever hit this country.
In his rather self-congratulatory editorial, Ken writes the best way to give out $5 billion dollars is with “speed and fairness and consistency,” which not coincidentally are three of the biggest complaints about the claims process: questions about its fairness and consistency concealed behind an utter lack of transparency and the slow allocation of payments while people suffer untold financial hardships.
Really Ken…people aren’t clamoring for the GCCF to be audited because they are satisfied with the process, at ease with what you’ve done and are doing, many in fact are rather angry, which is why it’s no wonder you’ve learned to live with “the potshots and the criticism.” You’d have to be used to it by now. They’re coming and have come from the US Justice Department, politicians both local and federal, various attorneys general and claimants across four states.
Ken writes, “You try to err on the side of being generous without being Santa Claus. Anyone can give money away,” and that would be quite correct, anybody can. Anyone can also claim to be the second coming of Christ when they came down to the Gulf in June of last year making all kinds of promises about speed and fairness and generosity only to see these promises disintegrate into the reality that you were getting more than you bargained for. It was and is a big job, Ken and a difficult one, but when you set people up to fail with causality in health claims, when you make people wait for interim claims while completing the easier, less lucrative quick claims, when you force people to gamble with their future by signing legal waiver forms and when people become so fed up with your claims process they just want to take the money and run, not from a sense of satisfaction and being made whole, but from a sense of disgust with another corporation and their henchmen who screwed an entire region…Ken, you’re not Santa Claus, you’re not even a lowly elf, you’re a wealthy, self-satisfied Boston attorney whose making quite a tidy profit for himself in the claims business.
Finally, Ken adds:
“These programs should be the exception rather than the rule. Bad things happen to good people every day, but I didn’t see a program after Katrina or Joplin. Policymakers need to be wary about doing an end run around the traditional way of resolving disputes in this country.”
What the hell does that even mean?
Here’s a thought, maybe the reason you didn’t see a claims process after Joplin and Katrina is 1. its pretty fucking hard to take a tornado to court and 2. Taking the Army Corps of Engineers to court for the failure of the levees has been near impossible and if going after Katrina itself, well, see #1 again, only replace tornado with hurricane. British Petroleum’s poor management and the resulting explosion of the Deepwater Horizon was not a natural disaster, it was man-made, and came as a result of time-saving and profit-seeking by an oil company that was already making money hand over fist.
Greed, Ken…simple greed…that’s why there is a claims process.
Rather than trying to publish your bullshit at Bloomberg where maybe you hoped people wouldn’t see it, why don’t you hold another town hall in the Gulf so you can tell the people to their face what a great job you’ve done.
Hell, you can even bring your security team, again.
Have a nice day.
Especially to Mark Moseley at The Lens for pointing out to yours truly Feinberg’s lovely gem of an article.
Jim Hood continues to do battle with Ken Feinberg, administrator of the GCCF claims fund.
At issue right now is jurisdiction of a lawsuit filed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood against the GCCF, where the Attorney General is asking Ken to comply with a subpoena and allow Hood to look behind the GCCF’s magic curtain to find out how these claims are being processed.
In response, Ken Feinberg filed a motion to remove the lawsuit to Federal Court, saying jurisdiction can and should be changed because this is a civil matter and the Deepwater Horizon exploded on the Outer Continental Shelf, but this past week, Jim Hood filed a motion to keep the lawsuit inside the Mississippi Court system. Hood argues his lawsuit came not as a civil matter, but as an attempt to enforce a subpoena that Feinberg had ignored, and since it is not a civil matter, its jurisdiction cannot be moved: “The state of Mississippi has not filed a substantive complaint stating a cause of action and requesting relief; therefore, it has not initiated a civil action in this matter,” Hood’s motion says, “The attorney general is engaged in a strictly pre-litigation investigation of the activities of the GCCF and Mr. Feinberg pursuant to the attorney general’s duty under the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act.”
Beyond this, it can be argued the GCCF is meant to compensate people damaged by the oil as it approached and reached Mississippi shores and fishing waters, which is quite the distance from the Outer Continental Shelf. Also, the GCCF operations Hood is asking to take a look at are operating within the state of Mississippi, not out in the Gulf.
It could also be argued Feinberg’s motion is simply an attempt to get this case to a kinder, more gentle court, one not so directly linked to Mississippians.
Of course Ken would deny this, just as he would deny he’s trying to stall this case out, much in the way he would deny he’s been stalling most things GCCF related for the past year, perhaps in this case hoping to have US Attorney General Eric Holder’s audit deflate Hood’s support or lay the groundwork to preempt his suit or give cause for Feinberg to criticize Hood for wasting Mississippi’s time and resources when that Federal audit is already in the planning stages.
Key word being : Federal.
Not the states, not Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, or Florida, but Federal, where people have always been kinder to career bureaucrats and politicians masquerading as lawyers.
And ultimately, what are we really talking about here, still?
The Gulf Coast deserves it and Feinberg is trying to control it, keeping people from looking too closely at what the GCCF is doing. If everything’s so on the up and up as Feinberg has maintained, what is the problem here? Certainly not the confidentiality of records. The claimants involved in Hood’s action have already given permission for Hood to look at their records. Feinberg’s games need to end, because the claimants caught within his legal maneuvering need justice, fairness and the assurance they have been screwed only once, by British Petroleum, and not twice, by British Petroleum and Ken Feinberg.
Wow, sure seems like Ken’s getting defensive down in the Gulf…
Defending himself against accusations that interim claims are not being paid, or are not enough, Ken Feinberg said, “I just think people should move on already. I mean, this is not a lifelong operation…I have no objection to people taking the interim payments, but I do think that there should be a recognition that it’s in the claimants’ interest at some point to move on.”
To just move on already…not a lifelong operation…
Maybe not for you Ken, but for thousands along the Gulf Coast, the Gulf is their lifelong operation; it’s where they work, play, raise their families…and the company you represent really fucked it up and your compensation program, the GCCF…well, it kinda sucks. George Barisich, a shrimper, oyster leaseholder and harvester who is president of the United Commercial Fishermen, said when discussing both Feinberg’s recent decision to pay oyster leaseholders seven times their losses, and his own final payment offer: “Seven times zero is still zero.”
Hmm, appear to be differing opinions…claimants should move on vs. move on, with what? Yes sir, according to Ken Feinberg, all is rapidly improving in the Gulf, all is well with the GCCF and those who think differently, just don’t get it. According to fishers who live and work in the Gulf, Feinberg is the one who doesn’t get it, not at all…
Especially when we talk about quick payments, the claim type 81% of fishers took, and everyone offers their reasons why:
According to Feinberg, people didn’t and aren’t taking quick payments out of financial desperation, they are accepting the $5,000 and $25,000 dollar flat rate offers because they don’t have documentation and/or have been more than compensated by the EAP’s. Nonetheless, according to a recent Times-Picayune article, he is “concerned enough about the persistent complaints” that he has agreed to US Attorney General Eric Holder’s audit of the GCCF.
According to Clint Guidry, President of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, Feinberg is dead wrong, “The reason you’re seeing a lot of $5,000 and $25,000 (quick) payments is they’re telling us our problem in Louisiana is a lack of documentation…Well, that is total horseshit. We went to Wildlife and Fisheries and got trip tickets going back 10 years. People spent thousands of dollars on accountants putting their claims together and they have been turned down flat. But they’ll tell you they’re happy to give you the $25,000 quick pay.”
And what might Catholic Charities say about the financial well-being of those who took the quick payments? According to Archbishop Gregory Aymond, commercial fishers who took the quick payment are among their target population, “People have resorted to the flat-rate quick payments,” the archbishop said. “That takes care of the short-term, but what happens to them down the line?”
Clint Guidry is speaking directly to the fishers and he speaks with them everyday.
Catholic Charities is helping the fishers and the organization is helping them everyday.
Feinberg had to have security at some of his town halls to protect him against angry fishers, so how much direct contact is he getting, to really understand motivations?
He says he sees no evidence, that the audit will validate him. Maybe, maybe not, but when it comes to that audit…it would seem to most, Feinberg agreeing to an audit due to his “concern” over persistent complaints is also, as Clint Guidry said, “horseshit.” Claimants have been calling for greater transparency in the GCCF process for a year. Jim Hood has actually sued to have an audit done, a lawsuit Feinberg is getting waived to Federal court. The way it appears, Feinberg was less “concerned” about criticisms, and more concerned about the building pressure from claimants and the states, calling for greater transparency, so he opened the pressure valve and took the Federal option, which he’s hoping will be less critical, less inflamed by local opinion.
Okay, so let’s take a look at the interim payments:
Feinberg has maintained for quite some time he’s not trying to coerce people away from the interim payments, the one payment where claimants do not have to waive their right to sue British Petroleum, yet he then says, “I just think people should move on already.” He then goes on to say that his formula for paying twice the 2010 losses for final payments could soon be a thing of the past, you know because British Petroleum is “battering him,” presumably for his generosity? So it would seem quite clear the message being sent to people thinking of interim payments is they should reconsider, grab the final payments before he decides to stop being so generous, you know, because BP is telling him to stop.
Oh, and how many interim payments has Feinberg paid to fishers in Louisiana?
Clint Guidry said, when commenting about the interim payments, “Then you got some people who are so frickin’ desperate because they fell through the cracks on interim payments,” he said. “Come May, they couldn’t make any money with the small (brown) shrimp and the bad prices, and they took the $25,000 because they needed to put food on the table for their kids.”
“Fell through the cracks.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, want to know how many people should be allowed to slip through the cracks?
Zero. None. Nobody. Precisely the same amount of people who asked for British Petroleum to spill their oil.
No, the Gulf still ain’t what it should be, Feinberg is still aloof and defensive, and despite the fisher’s financial difficulties, it’s still their fault and certainly not British Petroleum’s. Ken maintains he sees no evidence of people taking one claim over another due to economic hardship, yet Catholic Charities says otherwise and receives $15 million dollars in grant money to continue their work helping the fishers who according to Ken, have been made whole. Meanwhile, the fishers continue to struggle with poor catches and low prices due to low market demand, still suffering from the idea the seafood ain’t safe. And if there aren’t enough grey clouds, Feinberg keeps floating one out there about possible reductions in final claims, which are already too low, because BP is getting mad.
So there you have it, it must be the fishers fault.
Hell, even the GNO Inc’s Regional Economic Alliance says their study indicates fishers have been paid more losses than they’ve suffered…course, that study is based, like Feinberg’s methodology and British Petroleum’s bitching, on future estimates:
“It (the GNO study) does not take into account long term ecological effects, which are still unknown; nor does it take into account the impact on the Louisiana seafood “brand.” Further research is needed to examine the long term ecological impacts of exposure to oil concentrations and dispersant chemicals, as well as the impact on the fishery industry of decreased consumer demand for seafood.”
And estimates are all they have.
The GNO, British Petroleum and Feinberg, certainly when discussing the future, are taking guesses and forcing claimants to gamble. They are not talking hard facts.
Hard facts indicate people are still unemployed and people need help. Hard facts indicate the seafood catch ain’t what it should be and the prices are too low. Hard facts indicate the National Resource Damage Assessment is still a long way from being completed. Hard facts indicate there’s a long way to go, no matter how much Feinberg thinks people should just move on already.
Finally, hard facts indicate that when Ken Feinberg criticizes British Petroleum for raising people’s expectations about the $20 billion dollar claims fund, he would do well to hit a newspaper archive and remember the days when we heard nuggets like this one from CNN Money:
“The new head of the Gulf Coast disaster’s claims fund says his first two priorities will be to cut bigger checks and send them out faster to the oil spill’s economic victims.”
Maybe back then, in June of last year, that was just another estimate?
Ed. Note: Times Picayune now reporting investigators from both BP and the Coast Guard have gone out to the well site and found nothing. BP plans to send a ROV down to the seafloor tonight to determine if the well is leaking. Also, tests on the oil sheen spotted by Press-Register reporters has come back as a match to the oil that spilled last year. So, according to USCG and BP, no oil today, but the oil yesterday is a match to the Macondo…I feel better?
Reporters from the Alabama Press Register were out on the water near the Macondo Well site to investigate reports, floating around for over a week now, about new oil sheens on the Gulf’s surface:
“The Press-Register reporters located the area where the oil was rising to the surface by going to a point directly over the Macondo well and then moving in the direction of the prevailing surface current. The first blobs of oil seen on the surface were detected about a half-mile from the well. The frequency of the sightings increased gradually over the next half-mile.
In the Olympic swimming pool-sized area where the oil was rising most frequently, new sheens were erupting every few seconds on all sides of the 36-foot boat.
Marcus Kennedy, who piloted his fishing boat, the Kwazar, 115 miles from Dauphin Island to the well site, said he was stunned by the heavy petroleum scent in the air. A nearby data buoy recorded winds of less than 2 mph at the time”
Now, reports differ on where this oil is coming from:
BP, of course, denies this has anything to do with the Macondo Well.
Phillip Johnson, a professor at the University of Alabama feels the oil is most likely residual, just oil leaking from the 5000 feet of riser pipe left on the sea floor or oil that had been trapped in various debris from the sunk platform that’s now worked its way free.
Ed Overton, an oil chemist, feels more investigation is needed, to find out what is going on, “There is no way to say for sure whether the well is leaking, based on what is on the surface,” he said. “Of course it is suspicious.”
The Coast Guard has determined the leakage is from natural seeps and permitted pollution releases at other drilling sites, but did not elaborate how this was determined, and said no boats had been out near the well location.
Robert Bea, professor emeritus at UC-Berkeley, after looking at photographs of the sheen said, “I think the primary source with high probability is associated with the Macondo well…perhaps connections that developed between the well annulus (outside the casing), the reservoir sands about 17,000 feet below the seafloor, and the natural seep fault features” could provide a pathway for oil to move from deep underground to the seafloor, Bea said.
Lot of opinions, lot of oil, lots of possible narratives…
What’s needed is the truth.
Perhaps along with that GCCF audit, US Attorney General Eric Holder might find an independent investigator to get ahead of this story now, find out what, if anything is going on in the Gulf, throw a wrench in the spin cycle and beat that dryer to hell. When the Deepwater Horizon went down 16 months ago, the information appeared immediately slanted to fit a damage control agenda, truth be damned…so much so the Justice Department is now investigating BP for faulty oil spill estimates.
Not that we are headed for a repeat, but it might be nice this time, to start any sort of response to these sheens from the basis of truth.
Where are the sheens coming from? Is it likely there will be more? Is it coming from the Macondo Well?
Is there something wrong with the seal, with the sea floor?
But I’d sure like to know…regardless of whatever anyone who might stand to lose public relations battles or profit thinks about it.
“Last week, in response to Internet postings by lawyers and environmental groups describing a leak, BP issued a blanket denial, stating, “None of this is true.””
A blanket denial from British Petroleum, with little to no explanation.
Even if they are right, a blanket denial is not good enough, not this time.
David Pitofsky, Feinberg’s attorney, stated yesterday in a court filing it is their belief the GCCF already has adequate oversight so there is no need for the court to order any additional supervision, “The GCCF is already effectively supervised by the Coast Guard and several committees of Congress, and it has voluntarily agreed with the Department of Justice to an independent audit of the claims process,” Pitofsky said in the filing.
Yes, but this citizen would simply say the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
But first, let’s take a look at Feinberg’s friends:
The Coast Guard, while an admirable institution, seemed to really go out of their way to do the bidding of British Petroleum throughout this entire disaster. BP, Ken, that same company you seem to really hate admitting is your employer.
Congress, the only things Congress can agree on is how much they hate the other side of the aisle, a hatred eclipsed only by their apparent hatred of any legislation that might protect anything but their own ass. Environmental regulations, environmental oversight or the oversight of the GCCF, not really up there on their list of priorities, not when there is an entire nation of poor people they can willfully screw over. Ken, in their eyes, you’re small potatoes.
As far as this audit you and US Attorney General Eric Holder came up with, while I applaud its idea, I question its method, simply because it was something you and he agreed to behind closed doors and we still don’t know its range and/or scope, nor do we know if its findings will have any teeth beyond making things uncomfortable for you, Ken, for maybe a news cycle, before you go back to business as usual.
So, those are your friends. That is the oversight you have agreed to, and that is the oversight you and your lawyers say is enough.
With this oversight in place, we already have complaints from across the Gulf Coast how the GCCF isn’t doing its job, leaving too many claimants behind, from health claims to subsistence claims to interim claims…from a low-balling of final claim offers to coercion through financial desperation into accepting said offers or the many, many quick claim offers you’ve already paid out, all while signing away any rights to future compensation.
You say: not enough documentation, no causal evidence of health maladies, and the offers are fair…and that is all you say, except maybe the occasional caveat or apology, with no resulting correction of what you apologized for. And again, this is with the oversight you already have. So why do many across the Gulf Coast think you need more? Well, beyond everything stated above, because the enemy of my enemy is my friend, or in other words:
When it comes to oversight you haven’t agreed to, you need more precisely because you think you do have enough.
On Wednesday, US Attorney General announced via letter that he and Ken Feinberg had agreed to an independent audit of the GCCF’s claims process, and whereas this audit was perceived to be a welcome idea, one whose time is long since due…there remained some concerns.
Writing two days ago, I expressed a number of questions about how encompassing this audit might be, about the fairness involved and frankly, when it comes to all things oil spill, is the Federal government really to be trusted to appoint an independent auditor? Perhaps the affected states should be involved in the selection and/or otherwise.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in a statement said, “It is a shame we had to file a lawsuit to try to force Mr. Feinberg to do the right thing, I plan to speak with U.S. Attorney General Holder to ensure this audit is truly independent and in the best interest of the residents of our Gulf Coast.”
Also weighing in was Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater who said in an e-mail response to the Pensacola News Journal, “It’s about time, they need to work quickly and look with strict scrutiny at the claims-paying practices at GCCF.”
And more tellingly, Atwater added:
“Feinberg is a presidential appointee, and an audit conducted solely by the federal government is not going to dispel legitimate concerns about the transparency and fairness of the claims process. Florida needs and deserves representatives in this process, and that means including auditors from my team at the table looking on behalf of Floridians. To leave Florida out of the process, he said, “would be a continuation of the cloak of darkness that has surrounded this process from the outset.”
The Justice Department declined to comment.
Both men are right…this audit will be used to either persecute or vindicate Ken Feinberg and the GCCF’s claims process. It will be key in establishing the narrative regarding the GCCF’s fairness and the way claimants unhappy with this process will be perceived. All four affected states should have a hand in this, and should not leave it to the Federal Government and Feinberg to establish the way this audit will be conducted, if for no other reason than Feinberg wants his vindication and the Federal government wants political cover. After all, they appointed Feinberg to this position and it would seem that to leave the parameters of this audit in the hands of the two entities who will benefit most from a positive outcome…
That will only leave one more process in dispute, and that will help nobody.
Well, it’s about time…Ken Feinberg and the GCCF will undergo an independent audit by the end of the year. US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the audit in a letter sent yesterday to Feinberg which reveals the two men held a closed door meeting on July 7th. Apparently at this meeting, Holder told Feinberg of the complaints he heard from claimants while in Mobile, which led to talks of the independent audit.
Many claimants, along with local and national politicians have expressed concerns about the speed, fairness and transparency in the claims process, including Holder, who stated after his talk with Alabama residents on June 30th, “My voice has not been as loud as maybe it should have been. There are issues here, legitimate issues, that have to be discussed. Things have to be done better.” In the letter, Holder both praised the progress made by the GCCF and expressed his concerns regarding its transparency while stating the audit will hold the GCCF, “to the highest standards of efficiency, consistency and customer service. ”
No date has been set for its start, but Holder has advised he doesn’t want the processing and payment of claims interrupted.
Feinberg, in response to the letter wrote, “I welcome Attorney General Holder’s letter and thank him for his supportive words of encouragement. We will do what the Attorney General requests — and it is something we have always considered we would do — regarding an independent audit that will begin this year…”
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, one of the most vocal critics of the GCCF welcomed word of the audit, “It is good news for the people of Alabama that someone other than BP and Kenneth Feinberg will finally be able to peer into the inner-workings of the GCCF.” Feinberg has repeatedly promised the claims process will become more transparent, but has continually failed to improve the transparency with which the GCCF handles claims. “For far too long,” Strange continued, “The GCCF has hidden behind a veil of secrecy when denying compensation to victims of the Gulf oil spill. I applaud this outcome due to the efforts of Attorney General Holder and Alabama’s own local and Congressional leaders, who have refused to back down after constant rejection. The announcement today of an independent audit marks another step forward in making sure that all victims of the spill may at last be treated fairly and promptly.”
Well, this certainly is a turn of events, and surprising to say the least. Holder and Feinberg have a meeting and Holder tells Feinberg how a whole lot of claimants think the GCCF claims process whole lot of sucks, and Feinberg suddenly agrees to an independent audit, saying an audit, “is always something we’ve considered we would do.”
Okay, then perhaps Feinberg might explain how the complaints he heard from Holder were any different from the complaints he heard himself at his many town halls, except for the fact it was now Mr. Holder expressing these complaints. I’d also like to hear him explain how an audit was such an unconscionably stupid idea when Luther Strange spent months suggesting one, but when it is proposed by Mr. Holder, it rapidly becomes something he has always considered. Feinberg has spent the past many months defending himself as the decision maker on GCCF operations, that nobody had any right to impugn his authority, be it BP (ha-ha), Judge Barbier, Claimants, Congress, Gulf Coast Mayors and Governors…essentially anyone paying attention to how something doesn’t seem right with this process.
Previously, according to Feinberg, anyone suggesting claimants weren’t being paid enough, were only getting pennies on the dollar, they were wrong. Questioning the strictness of his documentation requirements? Well, they obviously didn’t see what Feinberg was seeing in the claims. The waiver forms are too encompassing? Wrong. Subsistence claims getting shafted Wrong again, those people so critical of his process simply don’t have the facts and boy, he would love to share the facts, but these things are confidential you know.
And then along comes the US Attorney General, someone who maybe has the authority to do something about Feinberg’s obstinance in the face of all criticism and suddenly: “…and it is something we have always considered we would do…”
This sudden agreement, made behind closed doors makes one wonder…how did those talks really go? Why did Holder suddenly get the keys to the kingdom, something many others have tried and failed to accomplish.
Keeping that in mind…some questions about this audit:
1. How encompassing will this audit be?
2. Over 300,000 claims were denied outright, what will be the process involved in auditing the fairness involved in these denials and/or will they be looked at, at all?
3. When it comes to the federal handling of all things oil spill, honesty has not always been paramount…so how about some state involvement in this audit?
The temptation is to not ask any questions, to just be happy this is finally coming to pass and this might be an understandable response, but it’s also important to understand the parameters involved. Who will be conducting the audit? How long will it take? If examples of unfairness are found, isolated or systemic, what recourse might claimants have who have been found to have been unfairly denied or not paid enough?
Let’s just say…yes, the audit is good news but when it comes to optimism…proceed with caution.
In article after article on the spill and the GCCF, come the words, “slipping through the cracks,” in reference to the inevitability that some who have rightful claim to the British Petroleum compensation fund will be denied payment for any number of reasons…they couldn’t prove their physical ailments came as a result of exposure to the spill, they didn’t have the proper documentation, they didn’t get the help needed in completing their claim, they missed a deadline or maybe they even accepted a quick payment, far too soon, only to find new costs, new expenditures, new problems previously unaccounted for…
In any case, they’ve slipped.
Back in March, Feinberg, administrator of the fund, admitted as much when he said: “Here is the problem that I continually have to address … roughly 80% of the claims that we now have in the queue lack proof…That is a huge number…” Feinberg did not rule out settling claims in the future, but he added: “The claims that were denied had woeful, inadequate or no documentation to speak of.”
What he didn’t say was that all of these claims so summarily dismissed, well over 100,000 of them, were undeserving of compensation, just that they lacked proof.
So how many of them are legitimate claims made by people so harmed from the spill, but for whatever reason were unable to complete the forms to Feinberg’s satisfaction and were then denied? How many of the people who were made offers by the GCCF didn’t have the proper documentation to receive all they deserved and settled for pennies on the dollar?
How could we possibly have an answer to any of these questions?
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated recently, after visiting Alabama to review progress along the Gulf Coast, “I am a little worried about the pace and the transparency” of the claims process, Holder said. “We have to ensure that it keeps pace with the restoration of this most beautiful part of the country.”
And so we come back to transparency, yet again…something Feinberg promises and doesn’t deliver, again….so the Gulf Coast is left to take his word for it, again.
Holder continued, “My voice has not been as loud as maybe it should have been…There are issues here, legitimate issues, that have to be discussed. Things have to be done better.”
Yes they do. Start by finally opening the books and making sure mistakes haven’t been made, that claimants haven’t needlessly been left behind.
Then, ask Ken Feinberg some key questions:
1. What is more important, a rigid inflexibility on what can be accepted as proof of damage in the claims process, or claimants being paid too little or left completely uncompensated?
2. Understanding your many statements about the huge undertaking this has been, with well over 400,000 claimants…how it has been hard, difficult, almost impossible to complete, shouldn’t you have hired more professionals to assist claimants and in turn, assist you?
3. By not hiring as many people as necessary which may have made the process less manageable, didn’t you run the risk of making mistakes that have left people unpaid and if so, why did you feel it appropriate to run that risk?
4. If you truly did come to the Gulf to make things right for people, to be fair…why would it be okay for anyone deserving of compensation to go unpaid? If only a matter of timelines, research, investigation or expenditures, shouldn’t it be that the GCCF’s job is finished only when justice is done for everybody in the Gulf?
5. And shouldn’t the aggrieved party, the citizens and businesses of the Gulf Coast be the ones to decide when justice has been done, not you or the GCCF and certainly not British Petroleum?
Feinberg is running this show. He set the methodology for final and interim claims. He is in charge of determining what constitutes appropriate proof. He has taken credit for the no-sue clause attached to quick payments and final claims. He is making the rules, determining who and how many are hired, when claims offices close, when his job is done. So it would only stand to reason that Ken can make changes, just as he is doing with compensation to oyster fishers…so in that light…Ken? How many citizens of the Gulf Coast should get left behind by this process? How many should lose a house, a car, the togetherness of their family and community as a result of this spill? How many Americans should be left to fall through the cracks, for any reason?
Tough questions all but I do have a suggestion, even though it will entail me doing something I typically don’t like to do, but feel is apt given the situation: I’ll answer that question with another.
So, how many people should be left to fall through the cracks by the GCCF?
Well, how many employees of British Petroleum have gone to jail for the events that occurred on the Deepwater Horizon?
Feinberg should be transparent and Feinberg should think outside of the box on these claims, not because he is compelled to do so by the Justice department or even Gulf Coast residents, but because it is the right thing to do. Feinberg should stop being a lawyer and start trying to understand the people and ways of the Gulf Coast so that nobody gets left behind, and he should take as long as necessary to ensure this happens.
Anything less is negligent to his duties and irresponsible to all required magnanimity.
Not one left behind in this mess: a mistake on GCCF paper could very well be someone’s livelihood and/or way of life.