Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Senate votes to audit BP claims fund | Pensacola News Journal | pnj.com

Senate votes to audit BP claims fund Pensacola News Journal pnj.com: Senate votes to audit BP claims fund
WASHINGTON — The fund that compensates businesses and people hurt by last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would be audited under a measure the Senate approved Tuesday.
The proposal, drafted by Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of West Miami and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, passed as an amendment to a package of spending bills. The vote on the package was 69-30.
The amendment would require the Justice Department to find an independent auditor to review the process that the Gulf Coast Claims Facility uses to evaluate and pay out claims of economic damage as a result of the oil spill.
The claims fund was set up last year with $20 billion from BP.
Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the compensation fund, has said he would welcome an audit and it should be done as soon as possible.
He cautioned that several competing interest groups would want input in the audit process. Groups representing business interests, environmental agendas and low-income Gulf residents already have lobbied claims fund officials.
"You can't win on this independent audit," he told lawmakers last week.
Rubio voted against the overall spending bill Tuesday because he wants to see more cuts to the $182 billion measure that funds agriculture, transportation, housing, law enforcement and NASA programs. But he said he's glad it includes language requiring the audit.
"This amendment brings us one step closer to an audit that will bring greater transparency to the claims process by providing a full review of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility on behalf of those impacted by the 2010 Gulf oil spill," Rubio said in a statement.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who co-sponsored the audit proposal, voted for the entire spending package.
A similar amendment introduced by Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., was approved by the House Appropriations Committee in July.
Tuesday's vote follows a hearing last week before the House Natural Resources Committee where Gulf Coast lawmakers angrily said the compensation fund has processed claims slowly and inconsistently, and lacks transparency.

Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, who sits on the Natural Resources panel, last week called the compensation fund process "a flawed payment system that lacks accountability and fails to account for the tremendous economic growth in North and Northwest Florida over the past two years."
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder visited Orange Beach in Alabama in July to assess damages from the spill and to meet with Bonner. He met later that month with Feinberg, and both agreed to support plans for an independent audit.
"We are pleased that Mr. Feinberg agreed to the department's request that an independent audit be commenced before the end of the year," Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in an email. "We believe the process will benefit from the input we have received from our Gulf partners over the past several weeks, and we remain on schedule and pressing forward."
Gulf Coast lawmakers are irked that it hasn't happened.
News Journal Washington bureau reporter Ledyard King contributed to this story.

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