NEW ORLEANS – The administrator in charge of Gulf oil spill claims argues in a court filing posted Tuesday that the openness of the process has been "nothing short of extraordinary" and his efforts to compensate victims have exceeded what is required by federal law.
The paperwork filed in federal court in New Orleans was dated Friday, the same day Kenneth Feinberg told reporters at an event in Mississippi that he had heard enough complaints about lack of transparency that he would have to do something. Later in the day, however, he issued rules for final payments that left unchanged the central formula he had proposed in early February.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is weighing the issue of whether BP and Feinberg, as its agent, are complying with the Oil Pollution Act.
Among other things, Barbier is being asked to order changes to a form Feinberg requires final payment recipients to sign. The current form gives up those claimants' rights to sue BP and other parties.
There have been widespread complaints about the handling of payouts from BP's $20 billion fund. An Associated Press review published last week that included interviews with legal experts, government officials and more than 300 Gulf residents found a process beset by red tape and delay. At its center is a fund administrator whose ties to BP have raised questions about his independence.
BP has argued that Feinberg's methodology for final payments is actually too generous. In a statement Sunday, the oil giant said it accepts "his decision to utilize methodologies to which we have objected."
Under Feinberg's plan, claimants would receive twice their documented 2010 losses. Oyster harvesters and oyster processors would be offered four times their losses. Data posted on the claims facility's website Tuesday shows interim and final payment offers are now being made in earnest.
The White House and BP appointed Feinberg last June to oversee payments from the fund to individuals and businesses. Since Feinberg took over the payment process in August, some $3.4 billion has been paid out to 169,000 claimants. Another roughly $200 million has been paid out of the fund for other costs. Besides payments to individuals and businesses, the fund also can be used to pay for environmental damages and state and local response costs. Feinberg is not in charge of those payments.
Feinberg recently said he believes the Gulf of Mexico should largely recover from BP's oil spill by the end of next year, and he doesn't think the entire $20 billion will be needed to compensate victims. Only half of that should suffice, he has said.