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| Not really sure how this should play out. Is BP (with Feinberg's help) getting off really easy, or is it desperation on the part of the claimants? Or merely business as usual, with everyone not corporate overlords getting screwed?
More than half of the 123,970 individuals who have been compensated for oil-spill-related losses have decided to sign away their right to sue and pursue a $5,000 "quick payment," an option claims czar Kenneth Feinberg designed to close out files from those who suffered limited or short-term damage from the spill. The proportion is even higher in Louisiana, where 57 percent of the 47,576 people who have received emergency payments are now taking the quick $5,000 final payment, which requires no additional documentation.
It appears the vast majority of people ending their claims with quick payments are those Feinberg was targeting: 92 percent are people who work in retail sales and service jobs or for restaurants, bars or hotels. Only 5 percent are fishers or seafood processors and distributors, whose jobs are directly tied to the offshore spill zone. The data suggest that the quick payments are mostly working as envisioned, ending claims by people who were able to show indirect losses from the spill, but who aren't likely to be able to show more losses going forward. But some claimant advocates are concerned to learn that so many of the people getting money are people so far removed from the spill that they aren't going to pursue future claims.
"The vast majority of fishing-sector people are not taking that quick claim, which makes sense to me," said Tom Costanza, director of justice and peace for Catholic Charities. "But that means Feinberg is using his resources and staff to pay people who aren't the target population. Why wouldn't he reallocate his staff to go after the 4,000 fishermen who were denied at transition" from BP's internal claims process to Feinberg's? In December, Feinberg introduced the quick-pay option -- $5,000 for individuals and $25,000 for businesses, with no additional documentation necessary for those already approved for an emergency payment, provided they waive any future claims against BP and other responsible parties.
Initially, advocates and lawyers feared fishermen and others who could be in for years of spill-induced losses would sacrifice larger claims payments down the road for the immediate relief. But GCCF data indicate that only about 3,000 people working in fishing and seafood-processing jobs have taken a quick payment as of Tuesday.
In mid-December, the four Gulf Coast states attorneys general sent out a joint statement warning claimants not to take a quick payment without being sure that their losses wouldn't exceed the $5,000 for individuals and $25,000 for businesses. The attorneys general "strongly encouraged" claimants to consult a lawyer before signing away any right to sue BP or other responsible parties.
Few claimants have lawyers.
Feinberg has touted his claims process as a way to avoid paying lawyers anything, and the Gulf Coast Claims Facility reports that less than 3 percent of all claimants are represented by counsel. But attorneys have asserted themselves more as Feinberg's process has come under increasing criticism for a lack of transparency. New Orleans area lawyers have begun advertising on radio and television, encouraging claimants to hire them to help them get final payments from Feinberg, even if he's already paid their six-month emergency claim.
Feinberg has rejected about two-thirds of the 480,000 claims he's received overall, and GCCF does not release many details about what types of people are still looking for compensation or why they were rejected.
That worries Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, who sent a pointed letter to Feinberg this week demanding more transparency. He asked for "the number of both submitted and paid claims, broken down by state, city, industry and job classification." "From day one Ken Feinberg has promised transparency throughout the claims process but has failed miserably to fulfill this promise because we still don't have the method or data necessary to determine what is actually going on behind closed doors with his program," Scalise said. "Because of the inexcusable lack of transparency within GCCF, we cannot determine exactly why so many people are using the quick pay option, and this lack of essential information is just one of a growing list of frustrations. ... I have demanded answers to these critical questions, and will keep pushing until we finally get answers, along with dramatic improvements in the claims process."
Feinberg said two weeks ago that he wanted to post his calculation methodology by this week, but he still hasn't done so.
| A study published Wednesday by the American Chemical Society in their journal Environmental Science and Technology finds that the dispersant used after the Deepwater Horizon blowout remained in deepwater oil plume for two months after BP's Gulf well was capped.
The study tracked the potentially toxic chemical dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, or DOSS, one of several compounds in Corexit 9500A, used extensively after the spill. DOSS made up about 10 percent, by weight, of the estimated 771,000 gallons of Corexit sprayed directly into the stream of oil and gas gushing from the well. Elizabeth Kujawinski of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute says the study will be used to determine the effects of the spill on marine life and human health.
"The first conclusion is that the molecules that we were studying ended up in the same depth horizon as the deepwater plume that others had observed," she said. "We don't find it in shallower or deeper water, so somehow it remained associated with the oil plume in some way. And what that means is that the dispersants did not contaminate the entire ocean, but only a small portion in a very limited location."
At the same time, the study found that scientists could track the dispersant over a two-month period as it drifted in the plume over a 200-mile path southwest from the well. "We do know that the highest concentrations we observed are a thousand times less than generally thought toxic," Kujawinski said.
"The study shows us where the dispersant ended up and tells us what amount of dispersant was distributed over space and time," said David Valentine, a professor of microbial geochemistry at the University of California at Santa Barbara and co-author of the study. "You can't understand the effects if you don't know how much and how long it's there."
The sampling also showed that the smaller and smaller amounts of DOSS found as the study progressed and the plume moved farther from the well resulted from dilution -- the chemical mixing with water -- and not from biodegradation. That stands in contrast to public statements by BP and Corexit officials, who have said the dispersant rapidly biodegrades, in many cases in a matter of days.
The dilution finding also differs from a similar study of methane gas contained in the same plume that found that tiny organisms ate most of it within the same two-month period after the capping of the well in July.
The study is based on samples taken by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Rhode Island, University of California at Santa Barbara and Stanford University during three cruises in May, July and September.
| New Senate bill aims to avoid next oil spill. Senators plan to introduce in the coming weeks new legislation aiming to prevent another Deepwater Horizon. A similar bill that would revise offshore drilling rules had previously been considered but never got out of committee. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said Wednesday that the government should demand firm standards for safety.
"We must ensure that we have systems in place in our government and in the industry so that this cannot happen again," said Bingaman, chair of Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. "Beyond that, we should lead the world in development of these systems and technology and not settle for standards that are less rigorous than those of other nations." "This is a complex and challenging matter. This committee unanimously reported legislation in the 111th Congress [last session] that would take many of the necessary steps," Bingaman said.
"Since then, the Department of the Interior has taken a number of important actions to address these issues. Nevertheless, I continue to believe that legislative change is necessary to fully ensure safe operations going forward, and intend to introduce legislation again in this Congress."
Obama's oil-spill commission -- whose chairs Bill Reilly and Bob Graham testified before Bingaman's Senate committee Wednesday -- blamed "systemic" failures in oil-industry safety practices and weakness in regulation for the disaster.
Both must be reformed or an accident like that aboard the Deepwater Horizon might recur, they said.
| This may be just a little too fast for comfort. ConocoPhillips, NRG, GE to put $300 million in new energy technologies.
Two days after President Obama's "Sputnik moment" call for cutting oil industry subsidies and funneling investment into "technologies of the future," some of the nation's old-line energy companies seem to have heeded his words.
On Thursday, oil company ConocoPhillips, power producer NRG Energy, and GE Capital announced they had formed a $300 million joint venture to "accelerate emerging energy technology." Obviously in the works long before the SOTU, the announcement is an indication that the big boys are hedging their bets. Energy Technology Ventures plans to distribute the $300 million over the next four years to 30 startups, not all totally green.
"Energy Technology Ventures will invest in, and offer commercial collaboration opportunities to, venture- and growth-stage energy technology companies in the renewable power generation, smart grid, energy efficiency, oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear energy, emission controls, water and biofuels sectors, primarily in North America, Europe, and Israel," the three corporate investors said in a statement.
Three new companies are highlighted - Alta Devices, a solar startup financed by some of Silicon Valley's venture capitalists, to produce "advanced materials for high-efficiency, low-cost solar energy".
Also getting funding is CoolPlanetBioFuels, a Southern California startup, that has created what it calls "biomass fractionator" to turn woodchips, algae, and crop waste into biofuels.
The third investment Energy Technology Ventures is one not totally green... Ciris Energy, a Colorado company, is "developing technology to biochemically convert coal to methane at large scale and low cost," according to the investors.
Oh, joy. That mythical "clean coal" fantasy again...
| Louisiana plans campaign to lure tourists after BP's oil spill. Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said his office plans a $4.2 million tourism advertising budget to help lure tourists who were reluctant to come to the state in 2010 because of the oil spill.
Addressing a joint meeting of the Louisiana Tourism Promotion District, the agency that oversees a special tourism tax, and the Louisiana Tourism Development Commission, an agency that gives input on tourism activities, Dardenne said he does not want to use any of the $30 million that BP has promised the state to promote tourism. He said the oil company has not yet paid that sum.
When that payment arrives, the state will keep $6 million for its marketing campaign and turn the rest over to local and parish tourism agencies.
Dardenne, who doubles as the state secretary of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, said the state's tourism budget now has less than $1 million in it for the spring ad campaign, projected to get under way March 29.
He won approval from the boards to shift about $2 million in surplus money from another area of his budget, and $1.3 million that was set aside to help stage and promote the Sugar Bowl to help pay for the ad campaign, to be unveiled today.
The shift of the $3.3 million also needs approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget before it can be used.
| And from Raleigh Hoke, with the Gulf Restoration Network, a report from my home state on Mississippi's "legacy of pollution"...
On Monday, I spent the day at the Mississippi State Capital in Jackson attending a hearing focused on environmental justice and how communities across the state continue to be impacted by the legacy of environmental contamination, and on-going environmental destruction. The hearing, which was called by Rep. Gregory Holloway, Sr., was attended by number of state officials including MS Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director, Trudy Fisher; head of the MS Department of Environmental Health, Bruce Brackin; and several state legislators.
However, the most impassioned and memorable speakers were the citizens who shared the stories of how their families and communities have been impacted by carcinogenic contaminants like creosote and dioxin. Many of the people who spoke live in low-income, minority communities. They have been struggling for years to push local, state and federal agencies, along with the corporate polluters responsible for these contaminants, to take action to clean up the places where they live and work. Unfortunately, it has often been an uphill battle.
For example, Reverend Steve Jamison of Columbus, MS shared the story of how his congregation unwittingly purchased a church in 1999 on property contaminated by creosote from a nearby wood treatment facility. Twelve years and countless hours and dollars later, their church is still fighting to make sure the site is fully cleaned up and the people’s health protected.
At the hearing, Rev. Jamison made the point that "We need people willing to enforce the set [of laws] we have...I want to be treated like I’m white and rich." This was a common theme – these communities don’t want special treatment, but everyone deserves clean soil, air, and water. Raleigh Hoke is Gulf Restoration Network's Mississippi Organizer.
PLEASE visit Pam LaPier's diary to find out how you can help the Gulf now and in the future. We don't have to be idle! And thanks to Crashing Vor and Pam LaPier for working on this!
Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:
The last Mothership has links to reference material.
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