- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Compensation checks are on the way to many Gulf Coast residents who are suffering financial loss as a result of the BP oil spill, but those who are taking a financial hit because of President Obama’s subsequent moratorium on deep-water oil drilling are not so fortunate. As judgments are made on which types of businesses receive life-sustaining checks, the president’s thumb is tipping the scales against workers dependent on the oil industry.

For eligible residents, an “extremely claimant-friendly” adjudication process awaits, says Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth R. Feinberg, who assumed control of BP’s $20 billion compensation fund on Monday.

“The goal will be to get the emergency six month payment checks out the door, within 48 hours for individuals, after receipt of the claim form and sufficient supporting documentation and no more than seven days for businesses, after receipt of claim form and supporting documentation, and help people on the path to rebuilding their lives,” Mr. Feinberg wrote on the newly operational Gulf Coast Claims Facility website.

At a public forum at the Pensacola Civic Center last week, according to the Pensacola News Journal, Yoshiko McKnight, owner of Flowers by Yoko in Gulf Breeze, Fla., asked Mr. Feinberg about getting reimbursed for lost business: “Can I get compensated … for the weddings that didn’t come, who never called me?” “Yes,” he answered. “If you can show that pre-spill there were 70 weddings and now there are 31 weddings - even if there are no canceled contracts because nobody ever called.”

So, for fishing, tourism and other types of service industries, generous assistance is available for phones that didn’t ring. However, losses caused not by the spill itself but the subsequent oil-drilling ban imposed by Mr. Obama are a political hot potato no one wants to handle. Mr. Feinberg’s office told the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Bluey that moratorium claims are BP’s responsibility, while BP has countered that all claims, including those related to the moratorium, have been transferred to Mr. Feinberg’s jurisdiction.

Prior to the transfer, BP paid out more than $345 million to about 116,000 claimants who had suffered direct loss from the spill. The Gulf Coast Claims Facility website promises money for “indirect economic damages” as well, but it contains no information indicating that losses resulting from the drilling ban would qualify under that category.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar initially imposed the drilling moratorium on May 27, following the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion. The ban was thrown out by a federal judge, but Mr. Salazar instituted a broader ban on July 13, which is in effect while litigation is ongoing.

Job losses of about 23,000 are expected during the six-month ban, according to a memo by federal drilling regulator Michael Bromwich obtained by the Wall Street Journal. At least 9,450 of those are oil-drilling-company employees. BP has pledged $100 million to compensate those workers, but an estimated 14,000 additional jobs serving the oil industry are likely to disappear by the Nov. 30 expiration of the ban. Businesses such as drilling-equipment manufacturers and charter-boat operations that ferry supplies to the rigs are severely impacted by the moratorium. Providing assistance to those businesses would constitute an admission that Team Obama is contributing to economic devastation in the Gulf. So those folks, evidently, are out of luck.

Mr. Obama’s deep-water oil-drilling ban punishes safe drilling-rig operations for BP’s mistake and is unnecessary; failure to compensate businesses that serve the oil industry hurt by the ban is unfair. But where fairness is absent, political calculation is often lurking. It is evident that the administration is using the Gulf oil spill to inflict damage to America’s domestic oil industry as part of a long-term strategy to tilt the playing field in favor of as-yet-unaffordable green-energy technology. Other measures are in the offing, such as a “cap-and-trade” bill that would drastically increase the cost of carbon-based energy. Congressional Democrats are pondering a possible lame-duck session following the November elections in order to pass the bill.

There should be no tipping of the scales against Gulf Coast residents whose only fault is working for businesses that support an industry blacklisted by the Obama administration. A policy of doling out cash to most oil-spill victims while excluding the hardworking men and women who keep the nation’s wheels turning is an obvious double standard. But that is what Americans have come to expect in today’s O-Zone.

Frank Perley is senior editor for opinion at The Washington Times.

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