Oil spill still stains Gulf Coast’s economy

Pace of payouts, comeback criticized

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“People who had nothing to do with the BP disaster, who had very strong safety records, have literally been put out of business by the administration,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican who represents a district in southeastern Louisiana.

Mr. Obama faced criticism for his handling of the spill, and polls at the time said he was doing a worse job than President Bush did in the aftermath of Katrina, which hit the Gulf in 2005.

Trying to counter those sentiments, Mr. Obama madefive trips to the region and even took his family on a seafood-filled vacation to Panama City, Fla., in August.

Mr. Bush visited New Orleans to mark one year after Katrina, but Mr. Obama will be far from the Gulf on Wednesday. He is scheduled to fly to California to campaign for re-election and to talk about his new budget proposal.

Over the past few months, though, the president has deflected criticism of his moratorium on deep-water drilling by saying he supports responsible drilling and that domestic oil and gas production reached its highest level ever in 2010.

Mr. Scalise said that’s more of a reflection of exploration conducted years ago, and he predicted a slowdown in production over the next few years.

The lawmaker is sponsoring legislation that would send at least 80 percent of any fines that BP ends up paying under the Clean Water Act to Gulf states to help fund restoration. He said he also is working to ensure greater transparency at the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which is not a governmental agency.

Waiting for resolution

Several Louisiana business owners testifying Monday at a field hearing for the House Natural Resources Committee said they have received only fractions of the payments they have requested. One shrimper told lawmakers that one year later she has yet to receive even an emergency check that was promised and had to take out a line of credit to prepare for the upcoming season.

Mr. Feinberg, the fund’s administrator, vigorously defended his stewardship of the claims facility. He said he has paid about $4 billion in claims to about 200,000 people and businesses.

“Although the program is not perfect, overall, we are succeeding,” Mr. Feinberg, a D.C. lawyer who also administered the Sept. 11 victims compensation fund, told The Washington Times.

He said he was not able to comment on individual claims, but stressed the need for complete and accurate documentation before issuing payments. The fund, which has a staff of about 3,200 claims adjusters, accountants and lawyers, has received more than 800,000 claims from all 50 states, including at least 8,000 of which appear to be fraudulent, he said.

As for the pace of the claims resolution process, Mr. Feinberg said, ensuring each request is treated in a “tailored” way takes time.

“There’s a lot of frustration and emotion, human nature being what it is,” said Mr. Feinberg, who added that he tries to hold meetings and town hall gatherings in the Gulf region as often as he can. “You take the heat.”

Even frustrated residents such as Mr. Struchen point out that the region is resilient and say it’s only a matter of when, not if, the Gulf recovers.

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About the Author
Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland

Kara Rowland, White House reporter for The Washington Times, is a D.C.-area native. She graduated from the University of Virginia, where she studied American government and spent nearly all her waking hours working as managing editor of the Cavalier Daily, UVa.’s student newspaper.

Her interest in political reporting was piqued by an internship at Roll Call the summer before her ...

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