Florida Sen. Bill Nelson on Tuesday called on the BP oil spill claims administrator to speed up the processing of damage claims for Floridians affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In a letter to Patrick Juneau, the Lafayette, Louisiana, attorney who heads the settlement claims office, Nelson said many Floridians who’d filed claims still didn’t know whether they’d be compensated – nearly six years after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Floridians are fed up with years of delay tactics, evasive answers and total silence from the claims process,” Nelson wrote. “People have closed up shop, packed up their families and left the state because there was no end in sight for their businesses to recoup lost revenue.”
After an explosion sank BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April 2010, an estimated 5 million barrels of oil spewed from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months before the spill was capped in mid-July and sealed in September.
The oil spill disaster disrupted the environment and devastated the region’s commercial and recreational fishing industries, causing numerous businesses to fail.
BP agreed last year to pay nearly $19 billion in federal, state and local claims over an 18-year period. The payments include a $5.5 billion federal civil penalty and $7.1 billion payable over 15 years to the U.S. government and the five Gulf states –Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas – for natural resources damage.
To settle economic claims by the five states, BP also agreed to pay $4.9 billion over 18 years and up to $1 billion to resolve claims by more than 400 local governments.
The claims process, however, has been marred by court challenges, fraudulent payments and assorted legal wrangling. Nelson, a Democrat, said it was time for Juneau and his staff to get their act together.
“Gulf Coast communities deserve better,” Nelson wrote. “After all, these are the individuals and business owners who bore the economic hardship caused by the Deepwater Horizon spill. They lost an entire tourism season because people believed tar covered the entire coastline of Florida.”
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier tapped Juneau to replace Kenneth Feinberg as the spill administrator in March 2012. BP later tried to oust Juneau from the position last year, claiming he didn’t disclose that he had previously represented the state of Louisiana while the claims process was being set up.
BP later dropped those efforts, citing internal controls and fraud prevention measures established under Juneau’s leadership.
Nelson wants Juneau to pick up the pace. He said he’d heard from many people who claimed Juneau’s staff hadn’t responded to their claims request.
“As the administrator of the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center, you are responsible for settling these petitions and ensuring a fair outcome for the victims of the BP spill,” Nelson wrote in his letter to Juneau. “I urge you to fulfill your obligation to Gulf Coast residents by resolving all claims as expeditiously and fairly as possible.”