Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Written by The Independent Staff

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There is a ray of hope that at least one aspect of the claims process nightmare against BP will come to an end. Ken Feinberg, the new administrator of the $20 billion escrow fund established to pay BP claims, said last Thursday that he’s changing the system so businesses can get emergency, lump-sum payments. Payments will be expedited and won’t have a predetermined limit, he added. The AP reported that Alabama Gov. Bob Riley lobbied hard for the change, saying many businesses that had received $5,000 emergency payments on a month-to-month basis were frustrated by having to ask for additional payments every few weeks. Riley says each claim needs to be looked at individually, and each business paid a fair amount based on its needs.

It’s a no-brainer: BP is not going to pay for losses that result from the government-imposed ban on offshore drilling, the one a U.S. district judge in New Orleans shot down, calling it “arbitrary” and “capricious.” And last week Feinberg confirmed as much when he said he’s not making payouts from the $20 billion fund to rig workers and related companies affected by the deepwater drilling moratorium until the White House and BP resolve the issue. It’s also murky whether he is in charge of the separate $100 million fund intended for displaced oilfield workers — the paltry figure industry officials say will be depleted in no time. Feinberg told the U.S. House Small Business Committee that he hopes to have a resolution soon over whether rig workers and related service industries can tap into the $20 billion fund. We don’t hold out much hope, which is one of many reasons the six-month moratorium should be lifted.

In its wisdom, BP, it turns out, did not think to include the possibility of hurricanes when it drafted official plans to clean up a potential oil spill. Several other companies filed plans almost identical to BP’s. So now it seems Hurricane Alex caught BP by surprise, and it’s highly unlikely the company would have been prepared had Alex turned toward the Horizon and its accompanying relief wells. In fact, there is not one mention of a “hurricane’’ or “tropical storm’’ in the 582-page plan for the Gulf, but concern is expressed about walruses. “The BP plan had walruses in the Gulf, but no hurricanes,’’ said Democratic U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, one of BP’s harshest critics. “Walruses haven’t been in the Gulf in a few million years, while a hurricane is just a few hundred miles from the spill site right now.’’ This is the kind of critical oversight that further paints a picture of BP’s casual attitude before the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 workers and set off the worst oil disaster in the nation’s history.

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