On Monday, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska made it official: $20 billion of BP’s dollars would be set aside in an escrow account to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill. Part of the legislation also ensures that future violators must also set up similar accounts.
Although the ruling has been passed on to Alaska’s notorious Republican, Senator Lisa Murkowski for review, she’s made no move to sign it yet. Instead, she’s working on her own bit of legislation, which would prevent the creation of a formal process for compensation of oil spill victims. Murkowski prefers that the administration set liability on offshore oil and gas projects on a case-by-case basis.
“People need some sort of assurance that if this happens again, they’ll be compensated, too,” Begich told the Anchorage Daily News. Begich also backed fellow Democrats who are calling for BP to pay money into the escrow fund before they pay a shareholder dividend; the company has since suspended its dividend payments.
The people’s trust in due process has been damaged throughout the Gulf oil spill catastrophe, and the fact that some politicians in Washington D.C. say that $20 billion has been set aside to pay businesses and individuals for their losses isn’t all that reassuring to those who have endured one misleading statement after another.
Kenneth R. Feinburg, the Washington super-lawyer who previously handled the massive relief payouts made to families of those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the Virginia Tech shootings, agrees that regaining this trust is the key to a successful dispursment of BP’s escrow funds.
“This program cannot be run from Washington, D.C.,” Feinberg said in a news conference Friday after a two-hour meeting in Jackson, Miss., with Gov. Haley Barbour (R). “You have to come down here to the states affected by this spill and hear firsthand what’s being done, what needs to be done, to provide prompt, fair, impartial compensation for people with a legitimate claim.”
Feinburg’s team has already begun arranging town hall meetings across the region, setting up 800-numbers and readied a Web site. They will continue by hiring local lawyers, accountants, environmental experts and database engineers to assist the effort in community offices across five states (Washington Post).
Despite the fact that BP “volunteerd” to set up the escrow fund for victim compensation, there are those who feel the company should be criminally prosecuted for the environmental devastation caused by its negligence.
To that end, the Center for Biological Diversity has filed a lawsuit against BP in New Orleans, seeking $19 Billion in Clean Water Act penalties.
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Image Credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed