BP Hard To Pin Down On Oil Spill Claims BP says it will pay all "legitimate claims" related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but such promises raise a crucial question: What exactly does "legitimate claim" mean? BP has declined to define the term, and the Obama administration and Congress want answers.
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BP Hard To Pin Down On Oil Spill Claims

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BP Hard To Pin Down On Oil Spill Claims

BP Hard To Pin Down On Oil Spill Claims

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DAVID GREENE, Host:

NPR's Yuki Noguchi digs into those questions.

YUKI NOGUCHI: BP President Lamar McKay remained steadfastly vague during a Senate hearing this month, despite prodding from Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell.

M: We're going to pay all legitimate claims.

S: If it's an impact for business loss from tourism, you're going to pay.

M: We're going to pay all legitimate claims.

S: Long-term damages to the Louisiana fishing industry and its brand.

M: I can't quantify or speculate on long-term. I don't know how to define it.

NOGUCHI: But in an email, the spokesman said BP hired a firm called ESIS to assess all oil spill claims. As of last week, it had received nearly 16,000. The spokesman said BP has, in some cases, paid some claims within 48 hours of receiving supporting documentation. BP's assurances to do right by the oil spill's victims sounds familiar to Walter Parker.

M: Exxon did. Yeah, it made very similar promises. Don't worry, we will take care of everything.

NOGUCHI: Parker chaired the Alaska oil spill commission two decades ago, following the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster there. He says things quickly went sour. Exxon disputed many claims, and the sides spent years in court. So Parker believes Gulf Coast victims will have a fight on their hands.

M: When it comes to money, I don't believe anything oil companies tell me. I don't trust that they would do anything to make the Gulf whole again - anything that amounts to anything - without tremendous pressure from all states and the federal government.

NOGUCHI: John Velsko, a fisherman based in Homer, Alaska, was one of those who received payment. He lost an entire fishing season the year the Valdez ran aground. To receive initial compensation, Velsko says Exxon required him to produce three years of fishing records.

M: It'd be like someone asking you when your house is on fire to dig out your tax returns from two years ago.

NOGUCHI: BP swiftly settled claims following its Texas City refinery explosion five years ago, which killed 15 people. BP later pleaded guilty to a related felony charge. Brent Coon says that was a relatively simple case.

M: Almost all those claims were extremely legitimate cases, and there wasn't much debate over that.

NOGUCHI: But, says Coon.

M: You know, at some point, BP's going to try to turn off a spigot. Because of the nature and scope and extent and the massive amount of damage that's done, they're going to do everything they can for damage control. So, they're going to say, we're not paying here, we're not paying there. The question is where are they going to draw that line?

NOGUCHI: Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.

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