WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Thursday fired upon the administrator of the $20 billion BP escrow account, complaining he is not doing enough to compensate shrimpers in Louisiana and other coastal states.
“I continue to hear stories of people who really need this money and are not getting it,” said Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia. “What are you going to do about it?”
Kenneth Feinberg, who is heading the Gulf Coast Claims Facility paying out for losses caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill last year, appeared before the House Natural Resources Committee and acknowledged that the operation has to improve with regard to claims paid out to shrimpers.
Feinberg said he has paid out $1 billion to the fishing industry along the coast. He said he intends to establish a new program for shrimpers in a few weeks.
“We have processed and paid plenty of shrimpers,” Feinberg said. “It is clear that the GCCF has to be more responsive to shrimpers.”
In attendance at the hearing was Dean Blanchard, who owns a Grand Isle seafood operation. This year’s harvest is the worst in 40 years, said Blanchard, whose take of shrimp has dropped from 24 million pounds in a good year to 6 million this year.
“It’s not a job; it’s what we love to do,” Blanchard said.
Rep. Steve Palazzo, R-Miss., told Feinberg that one large Gulf Coast fishing operation
received $45 million in payments while smaller operations have received little or no money.
“We’re tired. We’re frustrated,” Palazzo said. “We also feel insulted.”
Feinberg defended the claims process, saying BP has paid out $5.5 billion for requests made for losses.
Claims have come from all 50 states and from as far away as Sweden.
The facility has received 549,503 claims the 14 months of the program, Feinberg said.
Claims have come in at an average of 2,200 a week.
That is larger than the total number of claims that Feinberg said he handled when operating the 9/11 compensation fund.
Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., criticized Feinberg, adding only 39 percent of the claims have been paid.
“Quite frankly, I’ve heard from many of my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, from Gulf states that this number is simply unacceptable to the people whose livelihoods were disrupted by this disaster,” Hastings said.
Feinberg praised the work of his operation, saying it is approaching the $6 billion mark in paying claims in a little over a year since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and killed 11 workers and discharged 4.9 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.
Of 1,300 appeals of facility claims filed with the U.S. Coast Guard, none of the determinations have been overturned.
“I think we’re doing something right,” Feinberg said.
The senior Democrat on the committee, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., has been BP’s most vociferous critic since the catastrophe.
Markey praised BP and Feinberg on Thursday, noting that claims from the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 took years to wind its way through court.
“At a pivotal time in our nation’s history, when an oil rig sank to the bottom of the ocean and oil washed up on our shores, this fund kept families and businesses afloat,” Markey said.