In a letter to oil spill claims administrator Kenneth Feinberg, the U.S. Department of Justice called on the Gulf Coast Claims Facility to release more cash to oil spill victims.

The letter stresses the urgency of making payments quickly. Last summer was a lost season for much of the Gulf Coast’s economy, and if money doesn’t start flowing soon, 2011 could be too.

One passage is especially important to Floridians who have had their claims denied or ruled ineligible:

In resolving claims, it is important to note that [the Oil Pollution Act, which governs the process for oil spill claims] does not create categories of eligible and ineligible claimants. Rather, in determining whether a particular damage resulted from the spill, the GCCF must examine the facts and circumstances of each claim and ascertain whether the harm asserted by the claimant occurred “as a result of’ the oil spill and is a type of harm, such as lost profits, covered by OPA. In so doing, it is relevant to consider the nature of the economy from which the claim arises. In many parts ofthe Gulf, tourism is the economic engine on which many industries and professions depend.

Former state Attorney General Bill McCollum made a similar argument back in August when he blasted Feinberg’s protocol for applying a stricter standard than the Oil Pollution Act.

There businesses of all sorts — perhaps especially in the Florida panhandle — whose fortunes are closely tied to the health of the region’s tourism industry. And their claimants — see here, here and here — in some of those industries whose fortunes were damaged by the spill, but whose emergency payments were denied.

The Justice Department’s letter continues:

As we enter this most critical period, I urge you to take a second look at the categories of eligible and ineligible claims that the GCCF applied with respect to emergency advance payments. As noted above, OPA does not create such categories. Rules of decision regarding a particular industry that may make sense further inland may be wholly inapplicable for that industry in a purely coastal community that depends on visitors whose plans changed as a result of the spill. Communities that can demonstrate pervasive effects of the spill on their overall economy should have that evidence credited. The National Pollution Funds Center will issue its rulings based on the particular facts and circumstances of these claims, and the GCCF should, too.

Can the panhandle demonstrate the “pervasive effects of the spill” on its “overall economy?” There are studies showing it can.

Has your claim been denied or ruled ineligible? Share your story: travis(at)floridaindependent(dot)com.

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