U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whose state was among the ones hardest hit by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, today asked the White House for an investigation into the $20 billion compensation fund that was set up to help victims in the aftermath of the well blow-out off Louisiana last year.
Nelson's request of President Barack Obama follows a spate of recently published news accounts that raise questions about transparency and accountability in administering the fund. The Gulf Coast Claims Facility has faced repeated criticism from lawmakers, plaintiffs lawyers and claimants who complain about a lack of transparency and independence from BP, as well as claims being handled too slowly.
For example, the Associated Press reported this week that the compensation fund for Gulf oil spill victims has issued a final settlement payment to just one of the thousands of people and businesses waiting for checks - and that $10 million payout went to a company after the oil giant intervened on its behalf. BP won't identify the business, citing confidentiality, but acknowledges it lobbied for the settlement.
Additionally, a Louisiana district court judge this week ruled the fund is not "independent" of the BP oil company, and that BP must refrain from calling the administrator "neutral" as compensation is dispensed to victims of the worst oil spill in our country's history.
"Mr. President, last summer, while in my state at the U.S. Coast Guard station in Panama City, you said this fund would be run independent of those who caused the spill "so that people can trust that they'll get a fair shake,' " Nelson wrote in a letter to Obama today. "The claimants in Florida, and the rest of the Gulf coast, deserve no less.
"I respectfully request that your administration initiate a review of all administrative operations of the claims fund," Nelson wrote. "Given the court ruling and other news accounts, there's clearly a need to assure more accountability and transparency."
Nelson (D-FL) has been a long-time critic of oil industry safety. And he led the call last year for more leadership from the White House and more accountability from BP in the wake of the well blow-out. He was the first to post images of the leaking well online, after he and Sen. Barbara Boxer obtained footage of the underwater plume. It called into question BP's low-ball estimate of how much oil actually was gushing from the well.
Nelson also has led efforts to keep oil companies from putting rigs off Florida to protect the state's tourism-driven economy and unique environment.