Tuesday, June 8, 2010
The massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico has devastated much of the region's tourism and fishing industries. BP says it will have doled out more than $80 million in compensation by the end of June, but federal officials and local business owners say the company is paying too little, using a process that's too slow and bureaucratic.
A lot of people affected by the spill don't think the company will ever pay them what they believe they are owed.
The white sand beach on Grand Isle, La., stretches as far as the eye can see. What was a sunbather's mecca has been transformed into an industrial site. Cleanup workers are hauling gear and supplies, shoring up bright orange oil booms to contain the crude.
"I'd be packed full of people this time of year," said Keith Matirne, who owns a house along the beach. They'd be "crabbing and fishing in the water."
Appearing on BBC Television Sunday, BP executive Tony Hayward promised to pay all "legitimate" claims stemming from the spill's economic fallout.
"What we have done so far is pay every claim that has been presented to us," Hayward said. "We will continue to do that."
But a growing number of people say that's just not true. In St. Bernard Parish near New Orleans, outside a hearing by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Monday, shrimper and oysterman Clarence Duplessus said he gave BP all the documentation the company asked for, and it wouldn't pay his full claim.
"During May of last year, it was close to $27,000 that I made in that period, and they gave us $5,000," he said. He's from Plaquemines Parish, one of the hardest hit areas on the Louisiana coast.
"BP has been advertising on the radio station that they're going to pay people according to what they were making. The adjuster said he has no knowledge of this," Duplessus said.
Those who testified at the House committee hearing said BP is happy to sign $5,000 checks but won't commit to making bigger, long-term payments.
Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA), whose district has borne the brunt of the spill, said people don't trust Hayward to keep his word.
"It probably will end up more lawyering than resolving the claims," Melancon said. "It's large corporations versus how long can the little guy hold out."
While locals were testifying in St. Bernard Parish about the claims bottleneck, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen was raising the issue at a news briefing at the White House.
He said the process is especially slow for larger businesses needing compensation.
"That appears that may be a little cumbersome right now, so we're actually going to have a meeting with British Petroleum this week and try and simplify their ability to actually handle the claims from businesses," Allen said.
BP officials declined to be interviewed for this story and only sent a statement promising to pay all "legitimate and objectively verifiable claims."
"Our problem right now is survival over the next six months," said Kelby Linn, who owns one of the biggest resorts on Dauphin Island in Alabama.
Linn told the House panel that the money BP offered him isn't nearly enough to cover the costs of dozens of tourist cottages that are all sitting empty.
"When you talk about $5,000, we have a $60,000 a month overhead for my business. So I would get 2 1/2 days out of that," he said.
Linn says he hired an attorney to press his claim but not everybody can afford that kind of help.
For a lot of workers along the coast whose business is done mostly in cash, just documenting how much they usually earn will be tough.
The White House says National Guard soldiers may be deployed to help people fill out the paperwork BP is demanding.