Speaking at a meeting of Gov. Charlie Crist’s Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force, Kenneth Feinberg said Wednesday that he wished he could predict the future.
Feinberg — who is tasked with overseeing the $20 billion fund set up by BP to compensate victims of the spill — said that deciding how much money a claimant deserves will depend on a number of factors that are hard to foresee, from the ecological recovery of the Gulf of Mexico to the success of efforts to bolster Florida’s image among tourists.
“Who knows what the future holds? How long will it take before we can fish again?” he asked. “We don’t know.”
But he said he’s trying to find out.
Right now, the fund is paying six-month emergency claims, which Feinberg said are being processed as quickly as possible. People who accept those claims won’t need to waive their right to seek additional claims or to sue BP in the future.
However, as Andrew Restuccia has previously reported, people who accept long-term lump sum payments from the company will have to agree not to sue the company in the future. Those decisions don’t have to be made right away, but it will likely be years before the spill’s full effects are felt.
Marine biologist Riki Ott pointed out during a recent tour of the eastern panhandle that the damage caused by the Exxon Valdez lingers even today.
“We’re still not fishing herring [in the Prince William Sound], 21 years later,” she said.
Feinberg acknowledged that if the lump-sum payments were too low, one of two things could happen, neither of which is desirable. Either people would reject the offers and test their fortunes in court against a giant oil company, or they could wind up accepting assistance that failed to make them whole.
He said his team was working to come up with “credible, generous numbers” to guide the compensation process. To do that, he needs better information.
“BP has done a lot of things very well, all things considered,” he said. “Data isn’t one of them.”