Kenneth Feinberg was reassuring this week when he met with dozens of oil spill-affected residents and Gov. Charlie Crist in Pensacola Beach. The man charged with overseeing the $20 billion BP oil spill compensation fund confirmed that Florida businesses with documented losses will be considered victims of the spill even if they are far from soiled beaches. There has been anxiety over whether Feinberg would consider compensation for lost tourism, with Attorney General Bill McCollum needlessly stirring the pot. But Feinberg's 90-minute roundtable discussion on Monday eased those fears. He made clear that the process will be claimant-friendly and Florida will not be overlooked.
Feinberg is an old hand at determining proper levels of compensation after a major tragedy or disaster. He deftly administered the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund despite the complex, competing demands of the heirs of the attack's victims. Feinberg said Monday that everyone who thinks they have been affected by the oil spill should file for compensation, even if a business is inland or situated on a beach that does not have oil. Tampa Bay area beach resorts are seeing a substantial drop-off in conference bookings for next year. Groups are hesitant to commit to large-scale events without knowing whether the Gulf Coast's pristine beaches will still be unspoiled. Feinberg seemed to indicate that these kinds of losses, if proven, would be eligible for compensation.
Feinberg says that within two weeks a set of rules will be in place for each type of business, outlining what qualifies as a legitimate claim and what proof is necessary to document losses. He promised to issue damage payments in six-month lump sums rather than month-to-month emergency checks, and he will allow claims to be filed online with immediate consideration on their merits. This should address many of the problems with the current compensation system under BP, which has been slow, cheap and difficult to access.
McCollum did not help matters by sending a recent letter to Feinberg objecting to statements he made before the House Small Business Committee. The Republican candidate for governor told Feinberg that he should not consider Florida law in resolving claims, as Feinberg suggested he might do, but apply the federal Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Presumably state law is not as generous to injured parties, and McCollum worried that Floridians could be shortchanged.
McCollum's premature objections were an unnecessary diversion for political purposes. Feinberg has a proven track record and has said the right things. Now let the man do his work.