McCollum ‘cautiously optimistic’ after meeting with BP claims czarby Dara Kam | September 15th, 2010
Attorney General Bill McCollum said he is “cautiously optimistic” after an hour-and-a-half long meeting with BP claims czar Ken Feinberg in the Capitol this morning.
Claimants throughout the Gulf Coast have complained that little has changed since Feinberg, appointed by the White House and BP to dole out $20 billion the oil giant is putting into the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, took over BP’s much-maligned claims process more than three weeks ago.
McCollum has repeatedly criticized Feinberg’s system, still in development even after he has written more than $40 million in checks to Floridians for losses caused by BP’s April 20th Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast and ensuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Feinberg’s paid an average of $7,195 in emergency payments to nearly 5,600 Floridians since taking over on Aug. 23.
One of the most contentious issues facing Florida thus far has been Feinberg’s emphasis on “proximity” to the oil spill in determining eligibility for claims and questions about whether perceptions about Florida’s beaches being oily (even when they were not) contributed to a drop in tourism that affected hotels, restaurants and state tax collections.
Feinberg is “inclined to and likely to” take the impact on tourism into consideration when approving claims, McCollum told reporters this morning.
“We lost tourism big. There is no doubt about that,” McCollum said.
Feinberg expressed “vagueness in response” to the tourism issue but “he’s going to find a way to be able to honor tourism claims,” McCollum said.
Feinberg yesterday scored points with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association after meeting with them in Orlando. The association had “lawyered up” and was prepared to sue a reluctant Feinberg who had balked over giving emergency payments to hotel and restaurant owners other than those directly on oil-contaminated beaches. Feinberg convinced the FRLA and its members to file claims with him rather than going directly to court, the association announced yesterday.
In his meeting with McCollum today, Feinberg said he is considering appointing a claims czar for each state as a contact point for officials like McCollum who have complaints or concerns about the process, McCollum said.
McCollum also said Feinberg is “leaning towards” changing his current emergency payment system to be more in line with federal law which allows claimants to receive interim payments for up to three years after a disaster. Currently, Feinberg is giving claimants three months to apply for emergency payments.
McCollum’s office has tried to help Feinberg craft a protocol more in line with federal law than what the Boston attorney appears to be operating under. But McCollum’s at a considerable disadvantage, as are the other Gulf Coast state attorneys general: they have no authority to influence Feinberg other than suing him and/or BP.
Feinberg is holding a series of town hall meetings in the Gulf Coast states and is in Orange Beach, Ala., today.