Who Will Come First - BP or its Victims?

The statement below was released by the Seize BP Campaign.

Seize BP Los Angeles Forum, Danielle Norwood, 06-29/10
Danielle Norwood from Choctaw County,
Ala., speaks at a Seize BP community forum,
Los Angeles, Calif., June 29. To read a full
report of that successful event, click here.

Seize BP LA Forum, Mandi Elliott, 06-29-10
Mandi Elliott, originally from Mobile, Ala.,
described what BP has ruined for millions of
people in the Gulf Coast region.

Peta Lindsay, Seize BP Forum, Los Angeles, 06-29-10

BP and the government are working hand in hand to suppress the media and others from telling the truth about the nature and extent of the catastrophic damage caused by BP’s criminal negligence.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the national incident commander for the oil spill, announced that reporters and journalists may be fined $40,000 and face potential felony charges if they come within a 20-meter ‘safety zone’ around any response vessels or booms on the water or on beaches. This outrageous effort to shut down independent reporting comes on the heels of weeks of false statements issued by BP and dutifully repeated by government officials.

The Human Toll

The extent of suffering in the Gulf Coast continues to expand, with many unemployed now without the means to put food on the table. Demand for food is outpacing the ability of parish and church food banks.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times, at the First Baptist Church of Chalmette, in Louisiana’s St. Bernard parish, Pastor Marvin Robinson reports that demand for the church’s food pantry had doubled in the last month largely because of families thrown out of work by the oil spill. Last week, area churches handed out 38,000 pounds of food to help fishers and other unemployed locals. (“Eyes on storm as it nears the gulf,” Los Angeles Times, June 28)

While the President’s gentleman’s agreement with BP has served the interest of the administration and BP in diverting media attention from the claims process, the suffering continues unabated.

Obama could have demanded seizure of BP’s assets, but he didn’t. He could have dispatched Department of Justice lawyers to charge into court to collect the tens of billions of dollars of fines and penalties already accrued to date under the Clean Water Act and other legislation, but he opted not. The U.S. Congress could have, by now, enacted legislation lifting BP’s immunity for economic damages under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, but they have merely fiddled about.

BP got exactly what they wanted. An announcement to relieve public pressure and to make a “voluntary” agreement in which they promise to pay a fraction of what is due. Structured over time to minimize even the slightest financial inconvenience to BP. The New York Times ran an article on June 21 titled, “Is the $20 Billion Fund Actually a Victory for BP?”

And for those in the Gulf, what measure of relief did they get?

Down in the Gulf, surrounded by the rich treasures of the sea, the people are going to food banks.

A week ago, many in Alabama’s coastal fishing community attended services for William Allen Kruse, 55, a well-known and popular charter boat captain who, despondent over the spill’s impact on his family’s life, killed himself with a gunshot to the head.

“Psychological Toll of Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Quietly Mounts,” reports the Times-Picayune on June 27.

Meanwhile, Tony Hayward is off to the yacht races. He’s got his “life back.”

The Disappearing Escrow Account and Feinberg’s Conflicted Interests

Fund Administrator Kenneth Feinberg has announced that $20 billion is likely insufficient to cover the actual damages. (“Feinberg Says $20 Billion May Fall Short on BP Claims,” Bloomberg, June 21)

His announcement is not a demand for more money, but a message to dampen expectations: Don’t expect full payment.

In a shocking revelation, Feinberg’s firm has announced that fund payments will not be limited to compensation for lost wages and other economic harms. He plans to dip into the fund to absorb BP’s clean up and oil removal costs and any other payment they feel is “legitimate.” (“Lawyers say shocked over uses of $20 bln Gulf fund,” Reuters, June 24)

In a dramatic reversal, Feinberg has announced that he will demand legal waivers from at least some claimants who receive funds from the escrow account. He wants to limit BP’s exposure to lawsuits. (“With $20 Billion Fund, BP Limiting Liability: Feinberg,” CNBC.com, June 20)

You may remember, the White House originally announced that claimants would not give up their right to sue in court by recovering some amount from the fund. (“FACT SHEET: Claims and Escrow,” WhiteHouse.gov, June 16)

How can Feinberg negotiate a waiver of a right to sue? Is he BP’s lawyer? Apparently, he represents their interests.

BP as Victim

Feinberg, who is paid by BP, implores the public to recognize the need to be "fair" to BP, and has explained that a real purpose of the escrow account is to limit the firm's liability. He touted the value of the escrow account to BP's investors. For those who accept anything more substantial than small emergency fund payments, he explained: "You'll waive your right to sue. That's only fair."

People and businesses who seek compensation from the BP claims process for their major losses now or next year so that they can survive shouldn’t have to waive claims for ongoing damage, the extent of which may not be known for many years down the road. The damage may last generations. Families and communities may get wiped out—yet Feinberg and BP are primarily concerned with limits on liabilities for BP. (“With $20 Billion Fund, BP Limiting Liability: Feinberg,” CNBC.com, June 20)

The Fight for Justice

It was only the pressure of the people that forced the Obama Administration to pretend that it was taking strong measures against BP for the creation of the escrow fund. It is this pressure that can make the difference for the people of the Gulf coast. Seize BP volunteers and organizers are organizing around the country in a new round of demonstrations, meetings, strategizing sessions, rallies, and petition collections so that the people of the Gulf coast win real justice which can only come about through the seizure of BP’s assets.

Together, we can make this happen. Please take a moment now to support this fight for justice.

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