Of nearly 91,000 claims for final payment for damages resulting from the oil spill following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, exactly one $10 million payment has been made — to an unidentified Texas firm after BP intervened on the firm's behalf. That raises troubling questions about fairness and transparency.
The settlement to the single, undisclosed business was paid out of the $20 billion compensation fund established by BP in the wake of the worst oil spill in American history. The fund is administered by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility and led by Washington lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who has come under criticism for the slow and sometimes arbitrary process over which damage claims are accepted or denied. This latest incident hardly bolsters Feinberg's insistence that the claims process is fair and aboveboard.
To his credit, Feinberg released more specific methodology for paying claims Wednesday and said most eligible claimants will be able to collect actual damages, plus twice their 2010 damages as final payments. Those who suffered more than $500,000 in damages in 2010 will get an individual assessment to calculate future losses. These are steps in the right direction.
The first $10 million final payment, shrouded in secrecy, reeks of favoritism and a double standard unfairly imposed on a process designed to help people rebuild their lives. Only more transparency and quicker claims processing will make that stain fade for frustrated Gulf Coast residents and business owners.