Settling BP spill claims with fund isn’t justice for victims

The BP Oil Spill Multidistrict Litigation (MDL 2179) officially started on Aug. 10, 2010. The transfer order issued on that date by the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) clearly states: “Centralization may also facilitate closer coordination with Kenneth Feinberg’s administration of the BP compensation fund.” From the very beginning, the purpose of MDL 2179 was to replace democratic adversarial litigation with a fund approach to compensating victims of the BP oil spill. The vast majority of BP oil spill victims would never have their day in court. Judicial economy, rather than justice, was the primary objective.

The fund approach to resolving mass claims such as this ought to be viewed with a significant degree of concern. The precedent established by the JPML and the MDL 2179 court is clear: A “Responsible Party” under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (“OPA 90”) may now enter into a contract with a politically well-connected third party “Claims Administrator,” i.e., Kenneth R. Feinberg and Feinberg Rozen LLP, d/b/a Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF). This third party “Administrator / Straw Person,” directly and excessively compensated by the party responsible for the oil spill incident, may totally disregard OPA 90 and operate the claims process of the responsible party as fraudulently and negligently as it desires, for the sole purpose of limiting the liability of and providing closure to the responsible party. The third party “Administrator / Straw Person” shall never be held accountable for its tortious acts.

The operation of the GCCF has allowed BP to control, manage and settle its liabilities on highly preferential terms; has permitted members of the MDL 2179 Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee to be excessively compensated for merely negotiating a collusive settlement agreement; and has enabled judges to clear their dockets of large numbers of cases. In sum, fund approaches to resolving massive liabilities shift power over claims resolution entirely into the hands of self-interested parties and largely evade judicial scrutiny and oversight.

ADVERTISEMENT
Judicial economy is undoubtedly well-served by MDL consolidation when scores of similar cases are pending in the courts. Nevertheless, the excessive delay and marginalization of juror fact-finding (i.e., dearth of jury trials) associated with traditional MDL practice are developments that cannot be defended. The appropriate focus for fund resolution of mass claims should be justice for the claimants, not merely judicial economy and closure for the corporate misfeasor.

Tampa, Fla.


Connect America Fund has been huge success

From Robert B. Stewart, executive director of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership 

Americans seemingly do everything online. In today’s global economy, a high-speed Internet connection is a necessity, especially for our schools and libraries. Many of us take our broadband access for granted while millions of Americans in rural areas find themselves underserved, or without high speed access altogether. Fortunately, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been rolling out Connect America Fund (CAF) dollars and working with rural telecommunications companies to reduce the number of unserved Americans. 

The CAF is designed to match federal financial support to unserved areas with eligible broadband providers. Through this funding, the FCC is helping to continue to close the connection gap, bringing broadband to rural communities. While these improvements certainly benefit commerce, what should not be lost is their significant and positive impact on rural schools, hospitals and libraries. 

The FCC’s Connect America Fund has already been a huge success, but there is still much work to be done. “Connected” Americans everywhere should encourage the FCC to remain committed to the goals of the Connect America fund and to continue with plans to help fund broadband in rural communities — to the benefit of everyone.

Washington, D.C.


 

Taiwan should attend climate change summit

From Kent Wang, advisory commissioner for the Overseas Chinese Affairs Council 

Sen. Barbara Boxer’s op-ed stating “Our planet is warming at an alarming rate” and “our children and future generations are counting on us to act responsibly” is absolutely correct (“The evidence of climate change is overwhelming,” Oct. 1).    

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will meet from Nov. 11-22 in Warsaw, Poland, to build consensus on what such an agreement should look like. However, most Americans don’t realize that among the 195 member nations of UNFCCC, Taiwan is absent, despite the fact that the island is one of the leading economies in the world, a thriving democracy in East Asia and willing to commit to reducing its carbon emissions proactively.   

Climate change knows no boundaries and there is an urgent need to combat this worrying trend together, yet it is only with the help of the U.S. and the global community that Taiwan can have any hope of doing so. The UNFCCC is a key instrument to deal with climate change. Taiwan’s 23.3 million people would therefore very much appreciate U.S. support for Taiwan’s bid to participate in the UNFCCC meetings as an observer. Taiwan is prepared and eager to participate in the global climate regime and help safeguard our planet. 

Potomac Falls, Va.

 

 

More in Letters

Promoting diversity isn’t trying to stifle free speech

Read more »