BP Stonewalling Compensation to Gulf Residents – by Stephen Lendman
On April 23, a New York Times editorial headlined, “Quick Help for the Gulf,” mocking grave environmental damage as well as affected communities and residents in typical Times cavalier fashion, saying:
BP’s April 21 announced “$1 billion down payment on its obligation to restore the Gulf of Mexico to good health is such welcome news that it seems almost churlish to offer caveats” or question its motives.
In fact, BP committed America’s greatest ever environmental crime, destroying the entire Gulf, as well as the welfare, livelihoods, health and futures of millions of coastal residents, a disaster perhaps no amount of money can restore, but don’t expect BP even to try.
However, saying “(l)ong-term restoration is a goal we have backed ever since Hurricane Katrina,” The Times dismissively suggested $1 billion “is enough for now just to get started.” In fact, it’s inconsequential pocket change for the incalculable human, economic and environmental toll. But don’t expect Times editors to explain.
Others do, however, including Dahr Jamail, detailing Gulf “toxicity, suffering and death” on April 16, and on April 20, its “criminal negligence,” discussing mounting lawsuits for what BP won’t pay.
Ryan Lambert is one of many affected. Jamail quoted him saying:
“I’m seeing people starving to death and BP won’t pay them….They know what they did is wrong and they still won’t pay me (or most others). I’m done playing their games. All they are doing is starving people out and trying to get them to take (pocket change settlements to) give up their right to sue. I know thousands of people in the fishing industry, and I don’t know one person who has been made whole yet.”
In previous articles, Jamail covered similar ground, highlighting the plight of Gulf residents stonewalled by BP and Kenneth Feinberg’s firm, paid nearly $1 million a month to administer compensation by denying it, a dirty expertise he developed years ago handling previous settlement cases.
An earlier article explained, saying BP established a paltry $20 billion compensation fund for victims, containing a slim $3 billion deposit, the idea being to help BP, not them. Claims czar Feinberg was appointed to assure it, a man notorious for serving wealth and power interests.
His resume includes managing a similar account for 9/11 victims, then later was appointed pay czar for bailed out Wall Street banks and other companies. Like BP ombudsman Stanley Sporkin, he’s a notorious “fixer,” fronting for power, not people, earlier negotiating a lawsuit settlement for Agent Orange producers, benefitting them, not affected veterans, getting $1,200 not to litigate.
He later performed similar services for AH Robins, maker of the Dalkon Shield, injuring 235,000 women with potentially lethal pelvic infections, a settlement giving most of them $725 or less.
He’s now point man in charge of doing to Gulf residents what he did earlier, saving corporate criminals billions, getting victims to waive their right to sue in return for amounts too meager to matter. In a 2010 Wall Street Journal interview, he said:
“When I go to the Gulf, I hear a lot about the underground economy. ‘Mr. Feinberg, I got paid $5,000 a month all cash. Do I have a claim?’ Well, you have to prove your claim. There’s nothing illegal about all cash business, but do you have your tax return….Do you have documentary evidence….Will your ship captain vouch for the $5,000….I need something. I can’t be paying claims that can’t be proven. And I can tell you that this is going to be a big issue.”
Indeed it has been, reports confirming he’s on BP’s payroll, his mandate being to deny, deny, deny, or pay minimum amounts, mostly in lump sums, victims waiving their right to litigate, even those losing livelihoods, years of lost income, and health.
In early February 2011, Feinberg issued a report claiming, “Full economic recovery in the Gulf region is likely within two to three years” from last April. As a result, “losses in 2011 will be approximately 70% of” last year’s amount. He’ll thus cap payouts to twice the paltry $3.5 billion 2010 level.
He commissioned biologist Wes Tunnell to produce bogus findings based no scientific legitimacy as justification for denying claims, hanging desperate residents out to dry for bottom line priorities.
On April 20, an NAACP special investigation also revealed broken promises, saying:
“(T)he needs of residents attempting to cope with the increased stress have been largely unmet.”
Titled, “My Name is 6508799,” it covers the state of the Gulf a year later. The full report can be accessed through the following link:
Among complaints heard, most affected residents feel like they’ve been reduced to numbers in BP’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility database with “so much power over life, livelihood, health and overall well-being.”
As a result, many thousands haven’t been “made whole.” They’re now affected by dangerous toxins, “community conflicts, (destroyed) families, culture erosion, loss of property, including homes, cars, boats,” and other possessions. For many, perhaps most, their way of life is gone, and for all, they’re out of sight and mind to company, government, and major media reporters, focusing on money and power issues, not people.
Persistent, Increasing, Anguished Unmet Needs
They include bankruptcies, destroyed livelihoods, domestic violence, severe anxiety, trauma, PTSD, drug and alcohol abuse, serious illnesses, suicides, massive lost of plant and wildlife, and vast ecological destruction from toxic oil and dispersants, in combination more deadly than separately.
Louisiana fisherman Elmer is like many thousands, saying:
“I’m not asking for the world. I’m just asking for something to live on, man….At Thanksgiving, I was under review. My kids barely ate. I barely ate. Christmas came. My child is 13 years old. She got nothing. You know what she woke up to? No water (and) no power. What do you want me to do? Get on my knees and beg for it? Look, I’m here. I’m on my knees for it. I need my money sir, to live.”
Alabama oyster fisherman Nga Da said:
For 20 years, “I earned $1,500 – $2,000 a month. I received $1,000 a month for two months from BP. Then I got $800 for a month afterwards. Then I received nothing for the past five months.”
As a result, he borrowed money to pay rent. BP’s claims facility offered a lump sum $5,000 for not suing, “but I don’t know the future because there is no prospect for employment because most of the processing companies have closed.”
Another resident’s poignant sign read:
“Remember our way of life It’s OIL gone.”
The overall scope of unmet human, environmental, and community need is scandalous and largely unreported.
NAACP’s Climate Change Initiative director Jacqueline Patterson said:
“….(T)he ocean floor is severely damaged and many underwater habitats are struggling to recover. The same can be said for Gulf Coast residents. News reports that have focused on the ‘Spillionaires’ – those who have cashed in big on the BP payouts – fail to look below the surface and see (the great majority of) unhealed mental and physical wounds left by the disaster.”
Overall, NAACP’s report highlighted appalling levels of:
— financial devastation;
— unsafe seafood;
— increasing physical and emotional health issues;
— distressed communities and families;
— underpaid, grossly delayed, and denied claims “without adequate justification;”
— unavailable physical and emotional healthcare;
— “insufficient seafood safety testing and analysis;” and
— “under-resourced and overwhelmed community assistance programs.”
A Final Comment
For most Gulf residents, financial, health, family and community circumstances are much worse now than a year ago because of BP’s stonewalling and government dismissiveness to their plight, complicit with the company’s bottom line priorities.
From the start, the Obama administration conspired with BP, imposed censorship and cover-up, and barred the public and news media from coming within 65 feet of clean-up efforts under penalty of law without Coast Guard permission.
Suppressing the disaster’s magnitude and overall harm, Obama’s Gulf commission shielded BP officials from criminal culpability so they can keep raping America’s environment with impunity. It also recommended self-regulation and justified offshore drilling, no matter the extreme hazards, assuring repeat disasters as great or worse than BP’s with no attention given human or ecological considerations.
Inside Washington’s Beltway, only wealth and power issues matter, despite the cost to society and ordinary people bearing it most.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.