NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge ruled Wednesday that BP claims administrator Ken Feinberg must stop telling claimants he is independent from BP.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said Feinberg is acting for and on behalf of BP, and he and his agents must change the way they communicate with people making claims to reflect this.
The decision comes the same day Feinberg announced changes to the claims process.
He now says most victims who apply for a final settlement could get paid twice their documented 2010 losses. But some aren't so sure that's enough.
"The problem is, nobody knows. The shrimp may come back in two years. They may not. They may come back, but we're going to have a price problem. And it's going to be twice as bad with the oysters," said George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman's Association.
Barisich is both a shrimper and oyster farmer, but his shrimping boat has been docked since the BP oil disaster began 10 months ago. And he has mixed emotions about Fienberg's latest announcement, which is based on Feinberg's expectation that the region will recover within three years. But there are questions about whether that's realistic.
"They are finding more oil, the truth be known," said Barisich. "We may have a worse problem later on than we do now."
Feinberg believes oyster beds could take longer to recover, so oyster harvesters could get quadruple their documented 2010 losses if they apply for a final settlement.
State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, said the announcement leaves more questions than answers.
"At this point, I think it's still a little premature to determine to what extent the damages will continue," said Leger. "I think it's an attempt to try to convince people to accept a final settlement and move on."
"We're still seeing a lot of birds with oil in the marsh. We're still watching a lot of oil washing into the marsh," said Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser. "And until we're 100 percent and that's cleaned up, I have to be suspicious of all aspects of, and you've heard 100 times over and over, BP packing up and wanting to go home."
In a statement today, Feinberg said, "Predicting the future of the Gulf is not an exact science; there is obviously some unknown risk in attempting to determine any recovery period."
Feinberg made clear that any victim who doesn't want to accept a final settlement for future losses can opt to accept an interim payment for quarterly losses instead.
For the first time Wednesday, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility released a draft of its criteria for claim eligibility and its methods for determining the amount of a final claim. It's a measure Gov. Bobby Jindal has been asking for for months.
"The most important thing for claimants is that they're treated fairly, they have some idea of why their claims were approved or denied and why these amounts were chosen," Jindal said.
The draft is posted on the GCCF's website, www.gulfcoastclaimsfacility.com. It's open for public comment until February 16th. After that, the GCCF will adopt final rules for paying out claims.