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Will Salazar Let BP Wait 20 Years to Compensate Gulf Fishermen?

Global Green has a video of the fishermen of Shell Beach, Louisiana, who know that the BP oil spill will probably soon put them out of business:

Anthony Greco III: I’ve been fishing all my life.

Robert Campo: I don’t have Type A blood, I’ve got type saltwater.  My family’s been at this four generations.

Lindy LeBouef: That’s all I know how to do, is a commercial shrimper

Campo says the business has been in his family for over 100 years: it’s not just a job, it’s a way of life. LeBouf says he can carry himself for 5 months without going out of under. Meanwhile, according to the NYT, BP is using dispersants in the gulf that are made by a company with which it shares close ties, “even though other U.S. EPA-approved alternatives have been shown to be far less toxic and, in some cases, nearly twice as effective.”

When Salazar went to Louisiana earlier this week, Glynn Wilson of the Locust Fork News Journal followed him to Gator Lake for a press conference.  Cameras followed Salazar as he put on waders helped workers place booms and dispersents, and assured them that BP was on the hook for all costs (6:30):

SALAZAR:  We are committed that the United States of America will not spend any taxpayer money in terms of the removal or the cleanup or the compensation costs.  Those are the responsibilities of British Petroleum under the law.  Those are responsibilities that BP has assumed, that they have articulated they will be assuming.

In fact, when BP Chairman Larry McCay was questioned by Democrat Maria Cantwell in a Senate hearing, he refused to say:

LAMAR McKAY: We are paying legitimate claims right now, and so, yes, I am. And obviously we can’t keep from being sued, but, yes, we have said exactly what we mean. We’re going to pay the legitimate claims.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL: OK, so if it’s a legitimate claim, a harm to the fishing industry, both short term and long term, you’re going to pay?

LAMAR McKAY: We’re going to pay all legitimate claims.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL: If it’s an impact for business loss from tourism, you’re going to pay?

LAMAR McKAY: We’re going to pay all legitimate claims.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL: To state and local governments for lost tax revenue, you’re going to pay?

LAMAR McKAY: Question mark.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL: Long-term damages to the Louisiana fishing industry and its brand?

LAMAR McKAY: I can’t—I can’t quantify or speculate on long term. I don’t know how to define it.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL: Additional troubles from depleted fisheries in their recovery?

LAMAR McKAY: We’re going to pay all legitimate claims.

SEN. MARIA CANTWELL: Shipping impacts?

LAMAR McKAY: Legitimate claims.

Cantwell is from Washington state, and thus rightfully concerned that BP will do just what Exxon/Mobil did after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 — use every legal maneuver to evade payment for as long as possible.

Here’s what Exxon-Mobil told a town hall meeting full of angry Alaskan fisherman at the time:

Don Cornett:  Whatever it takes to keep you whole.  You have my word on that.  Don Cornett. I’ve told you that.

Those promises were hollow.  Just ask John Platt, an Alaskan fisherman whose business was decimated by the Exxon-Valdez. spill.  Platt was one of 32,000 plaintiffs whose case was fought all the way to the Supreme Court by Exxon-Mobil.  It was finally settled last year.  Twenty years later, Platt — deeply in debt — saw his $400,000 settlement check go straight to the government for $600,000 he owed in fishing licenses,.  He still has to pay taxes on the settlement money.

According to CBS, at least 6000 of the original plaintifs have died, and 8000 have liens against their settlements.

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski told CBS News: “I think that’s been Exxon’s strategy every step of the way.  To wear everybody down.  They succeeded in fatiguing those who were entitled to this compensation.”

BP is already fingerpointing, saying that Halliburton and Transocean were to blame, not them.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where the “legitimate claims” argument is going.

What does Ken Salazar intend to do to hold BP accountable now, and prevent Anthony Greco III, Robert Campo and Lindy LeBouef from suffering the same fate of John Platt?

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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