by Jordan Flaherty
Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) set up in the aftermath of the BP drilling disaster, has broken with his own past practices − disregarding the evidence compiled by scientists and the experience of Gulf Coast residents − and refused to pay health claims filed by Gulf Coast residents.
In a devastating report released July 27, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (AEHR) − a public interest law firm that has taken a leadership role in environmental justice struggles on the Gulf Coast − has documented the hypocrisy and injustice behind Feinberg’s policies. [The authors are Nathalie Walker and Monique Harden. Monique has been assisting Bayview Hunters Point in our struggle for environmental justice as well. – ed.]
Up to this point, Feinberg has denied all damage claims for illnesses associated with exposure to the toxic BP crude oil and/or toxic chemical dispersants that were applied to the oil spill. In doing so, he has said that he requires medical proof of causation showing that the illnesses were caused by toxic exposures during the BP oil cleanup work. In their report, AEHR shows the problem with this position:
“Feinberg’s requirement of medical proof of causation for BP illness claims is a break from his past practices in processing claims and payouts in the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund and the Agent Orange Settlement Fund. As the administrator of those funds, Feinberg did not require medical proof that a claimant’s illness or disability was caused by being exposed to toxic air pollution resulting from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks or the toxic chemicals in Agent Orange sprayed during the Vietnam War.
“These disaster fund programs paid claimants based on a showing that they were in the vicinity where harmful chemicals were present and had a medically diagnosed illness or disability. The rationale for not requiring medical proof of causation in the Agent Orange Settlement Fund, which was replicated in the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund, is ‘the inconclusive state of the scientific evidence’ to demonstrate that a specific toxic exposure caused a specific physical harm.”
By creating a significantly higher burden of proof standard for illness claims by people exposed to toxic chemicals during their cleanup of BP’s oil disaster, Feinberg effectively denies all damage claims for illnesses associated with exposure to the toxic BP crude oil and or toxic chemical dispersants that were applied to the oil spill.
Feinberg’s unprecedented standard implies that the sacrifices that cleanup workers and volunteers have made to protect the coastal communities, livelihoods, culture, marine species and wildlife of the Gulf Region from the largest environmental disaster in the history of the United States are of lesser importance.
It also implies that people living in or visiting the Gulf Coast who were exposed to BP’s oil and or chemical dispersants do not deserve the same level of protection afforded to the residents and visitors in the vicinity of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks, who received financial compensation for toxic exposure-related illness without medical proof of causation.
This is not the first time that AEHR has intervened for justice in the claims process. On June 11, 2010, less than two months after the BP oil drilling disaster, AEHR exposed the fact that BP contracted with a claims processing company that promoted its record of reducing lost dollar payouts for injuries and damage caused by its client companies. This company, ESIS, Inc., was administering the claims filed by people who suffered injuries and losses from the BP oil disaster.
A few weeks later, Kenneth Feinberg was appointed as the administrator to take over the BP claims process and he established the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Clearly, the fight for justice for those affected by the BP disaster is not over.
The report can be downloaded at ehumanrights.org.
Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans-based journalist and staffer with the Louisiana Justice Institute, is the author of the book, “Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six.” He can be reached at email@example.com. This story first appeared on Huffington Post.
Black leaders travel to London to press BP for $488 million in claims for voiceless citizens
by Ivan Thomas
A rally, prayer vigil and press conference outside St. Paul Cathedral in London at noon Aug. 2 will be led by Art Rocker, a social justice leader and founder of Operation People for Peace, a multi-racial organization of religious, business and community leaders formed to advocate for the poor people impacted by BP’s oil spill in the Gulf Coast region. He will be joined by legendary entertainer and social activist Dick Gregory, Dr. E. Faye Williams, chair of the National Congress of Black Women, and Jimmie Gardner, police chief of Pritchard, Alabama.
The delegation represents citizens, churches, hoteliers and small businesses and others without significant political and economic clout. In pursuit of its goal to persuade BP to meet its obligations to them, the delegation has requested a meeting with BP executives.
Rocker said the delegation will be pushing for a $488 million settlement of outstanding claims. “It has been determined that better than 90 percent of our claimants are single parents with an average of two children,” he said. “Their earnings are below the poverty line; they live in geographic locations and are engaged in occupations that were impacted the most by the economic fallout that followed the spill.”
Pritchard, Alabama, offers a good example of how inadequate BP’s offers have been so far, Rocker said. Half the town is out of work, yet they have received only $54,000 – about $1 per person, Rocker said. “That’s a disgrace and a shame.” Neighboring areas have received much larger settlements, he said.
“The oil spill decimated the Gulf’s travel and tourism industries, which represent 46 percent of the Gulf’s economy, and sadly it is estimated that the oil spill has caused the loss of at least 1 million jobs,” Williams added. “British Petroleum must pay the underserved! Not to do so is unconscionable, and we will do everything in our power to get the underserved paid.”
Said Gregory: “Mr. Kenneth Feinberg, a representative of BP who has been allotted $20 billion to settle the claims for damage caused by the BP oil spill, has done nothing to ease the pain of the poor and underserved. Mr. Feinberg has done nothing more than make false promises of payment. I have come to the conclusion that his job is simply to block payments to poor people, not to settle them. His intentions may be good, but it seems that he has no authority to actually pay claims to the people we represent, so it’s time to move our efforts to another level. That’s why we are traveling to London.”
Ivan Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.