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White House seeks to increase spill costs for BP

Media coverage of the aftermath of the BP Gulf oil spill offered generally positive assessments of the White House’s increasing demands on BP to take financial responsibility. The story was briefly noted on the network news. AFP (6/10, Oberman) reports the US “tightened pressure Wednesday on BP, setting a 72-hour deadline for the battered British energy titan to present updated plans for battling the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, “who is leading the government response to the disaster, met with BP officials in Washington and ordered them to produce records of compensation claims filed in four stricken southern US states.” The “stringent demands for greater transparency betrayed the growing mistrust between BP and President Barack Obama’s administration more than seven weeks into the nation’s worst ever environmental catastrophe.”

The CBS Evening News (6/9, lead story, 3:45, Couric) reported, “From the beginning, the Obama Administration has insisted it is in charge of the response to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.” Today, Adm. Allen “demanded BP be more open about how it’s paying claims and come up with a better plan for capturing the gushing oil.”

The Wall Street Journal (6/10, Chazan, Power) reports the Obama Administration has also demanded that BP increase the costs it will be required to cover to include the salaries of laid-off oil industry workers. The increasing scope of its potential liabilities took an additional toll on BP’s share price, which fell nearly 16% to $29.20. ABC World News (6/9, story 2, 2:30, Sawyer) reported, “And as they are being required to pay out, BP stock fell almost 16% today. The company has lost one-half its value since the rig explosion on April 20th.”

The Washington Post (6/10, Ahrens) reports, “More ominously, investors and traders rushed to dump their BP shares: Trading of the stock occurred at four times normal volume today.” As a result, “the asset-rich company is now trading for less than its book value, which is essentially all the assets it has — oil fields, oil rigs and so forth — minus intangible assets and liabilities. In English, this means that investors and traders think that the company is now actually worth less than all the hard assets it owns.”

The AP (6/10, Skoloff, Henry) reports the “fishermen, businesses and property owners who have filed damage claims with the company angrily complained of delays, excessive paperwork and skimpy payments that have put them on the verge of going under.” Investors “deserted BP amid fears that the company might be forced to suspend dividends, end up in bankruptcy and find itself overwhelmed by the cleanup costs, penalties, damage claims and lawsuits generated by the biggest oil spill in US history.” Some locals “see dark parallels to what happened after Hurricane Katrina, when they had to wait years to get reimbursed for losses.”

The CBS Evening News (6/9, story 4, :35, Couric) reported, “Another viewer wants to know: Why hasn’t the President declared the Gulf states a Federal disaster area releasing Federal assistance to governors?” CBS (Reid) added, “If this had been a natural disaster like a hurricane, that’s exactly what would have happened. The states would be declared disaster areas and they would then be eligible for federal reimbursement. But in this case, BP is the responsible party so the governors aren’t even asking the Federal Government for money, they’re going straight to that deep pocket – BP.”

BP cleanup plan lacks health safeguards for workers. McClatchy (6/10, Taylor) reports BP’s “plan to protect workers fighting the massive oil spill in the Gulf, which the Coast Guard approved on May 25, exposes them to higher levels of toxic chemicals than generally accepted practices permit.” As a result, BP “isn’t required to give workers respirators, to evacuate them from danger zones, or to take other precautions until conditions are more dangerous. The looser standards are due in part to federal regulations that don’t specify safety thresholds for volatile organic compounds, or VOCs – the principal toxins that threaten the health of spill response workers, experts said.” BP’s plan “also fails to address the use of more than 1 million gallons of dispersants so far in the cleanup.”

Louisiana, Alabama note cases of oil spill-related illness. CNN(6/9, Landau) reported, “States are tracking the health consequences of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, including respiratory and skin irritation problems in Louisiana and Alabama, health officials said.” As of Wednesday, Louisiana public health officials recorded “71 cases of oil spill-related illness,” which included 50 oil rig workers. “Symptoms reported by workers included throat irritation, cough, chest pain, headaches, and shortness of breath.” Notably, the majority of “people who reported oil-related sickness were 18 to 64 years old.” Meanwhile, “in Alabama…15 cases of illness have been reported,” however, the “Texas Department of State Health Services has not issued any warnings regarding the oil spill and is not aware of any related illnesses, a spokeswoman said.” AFP (6/9) also covered the story.

States aim to protect beachgoers. On its website, ABC News (6/9, Besser, Childs) reported, “In states with coastlines affected by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, top health officials are making efforts to protect beachgoers,” and they are urging “the public to follow commonsense measures.” Dr. Mary Currier, of “the Mississippi State Department of Health, said her state has instituted a beach monitoring program.” In Alabama, “a strong advisory against swimming” was issued over the weekend “following a number of local reports of the presence of oil on the coast.” Meanwhile, “Florida State Surgeon General Dr. Ana Viamonte Ros said her state is prepared to issue swimming advisories if oil sheen or mousse is detected on the water.” The state has already sent out “tar ball advisories — in short, those who see tar balls should not touch them, as they can cause rashes and other problems.”

Bill would mandate restitution for victims of some environmental crimes. National Law Journal (6/10, Ingram) reports, “legislation introduced Wednesday would mandate restitution for victims of some environmental crimes” by amending “the section of the US Code relating to when judges must impose restitution during sentencing” and directing “the US Sentencing Commission to review and amend the sentencing guidelines for crimes under the Clean Water Act.”

Potential claimants seeking lawyers. The Bradenton (FL) Herald (6/10, Kennedy) reports, “Potential claimants are meeting with lawyers to discuss their plight as a result of British Petroleum’s oil well that continues to blacken the Gulf with the largest spill in US history.” The article mentions various potential claimants, including seafood wholesalers, fishermen, and realtors.

Class action suits filed against BP. WPDE-TV Florence, SC (6/9, Allen) reports, “Three class action lawsuits have been filed, asking the courts to force BP to take action now.” While the suits seek economic damages of not less than $5 million, according to the lawyers who filed the suits, “monetary damages aren’t the real issue.” Instead they want BP and South Carolina “to start making plans for dealing with the spill, right now.” Attorneys Ed Bell of Georgetown and Tommy Brittain of Myrtle Beach “say now that the spill has made its way into the Gulf Stream Loop, one strong nor’easter could eventually put tar balls on Grand Strand beaches.”

Despite scientists’ evidence, BP continues to deny existence of oil plumes. The CBS Evening News (6/9, lead story, 3:45, Attkisson) reported, “It’s marine scientists from Gulf state universities, not the government or BP, who have been flagging giant undersea plumes for weeks. University of Georgia researchers found one three miles wide. The University of South Florida an even bigger one. But BP, responsible for managing the fallout, appears to be in a perpetual state of denial. They insist all the oil is on top.” Tony Hayward, BP CEO: “The oil is on the surface.” Unidentified speaker: “Do you not believe these plumes exist?” Doug Suttles, BP COD: “Harry, there are not. … No one has found any large concentrations of oil beneath the surface.” Attkisson: “Too often, critics say, the best information isn’t coming from BP or the government’s unified command.”

Congress frustrated with lack of information on Gulf oil spill. As Administration officials testified before congressional panels on the Federal Government’s response to the Gulf oil spill, media reports note that lawmakers expressed frustration with the lack of information from BP about the disaster. NBC Nightly News (6/9, story 4, 2:00, Costello) reported that in Washington, “the frustration from the Gulf washed across Capitol Hill today,” and there was “confusion from members of both parties looking for basic information” such as the volume of the leak. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama: “I’d like to get a better picture about the flow, how much is coming out.” Costello: “That’s still not clear, said the Interior Secretary, reluctant to rely on BP’s numbers.” Secretary Ken Salazar: “We will get to that right number because the American people need to know it.” Costello: A “six-month ban on all deep water drilling, now in effect, is meant to allow a safety and environmental review. One Louisiana senator told NBC the review can’t last long. With small businesses and thousands of Gulf area jobs on the line.” Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana: “If that pause lasts longer than 30 days, 60 days, maybe 90 days, what happens is you put this industry at great peril.”

TheLos Angeles Times (6/10, Murphy, Simon) reports Federal officials “conceded Wednesday that efforts to contain the well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico may have boosted the amount of oil gushing out, but predicted they would be able to nearly double the quantity of crude collected by next week.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar “also reassured congressional representatives from the beleaguered gulf states that a six-month moratorium on drilling that many here have called economically ruinous could be lifted sooner if new studies and protections are put into place.”

Politico (6/10, Sherman) reports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “moved to tighten control of the Democratic response to the BP oil spill, telling top lawmakers at a private meeting Tuesday she wants more coordination among the bevy of committees overseeing the Gulf Coast disaster.” Pelosi “told lawmakers – including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, by speakerphone – that she wants the six House committees looking into the oil well explosion to produce legislation by July 4, aides said. Under that plan, the full House could act when it returns from its July recess.” Pelosi’s “plea for more coordination was an implicit acknowledgment that the House response so far has seemed unfocused, even chaotic.”

Journalists, scientists complain of lack of access, information surrounding spill. In a front page story, the New York Times (6/10, A20, Peters) reports journalists “have repeatedly found themselves turned away from public areas affected by the spill, and not only by BP and its contractors, but by local law enforcement, the Coast Guard and government officials,” and “to some critics of the response effort by BP and the government, instances of news media being kept at bay are just another example of a broader problem of officials’ filtering what images of the spill the public sees.” Scientists have also “complained about the trickle of information that has emerged from BP and government sources.” Said Rep. Edward Markey, “I think they’ve been trying to limit access,” adding, “It is a company that was not used to transparency. It was not used to having public scrutiny of what it did.”

Number of federal inspectors lags offshore oil projects. On its front page, the Washington Post (6/10, A1, Eilperin, Mufson) reports that the number of federal inspectors has not kept pace with the growing number of offshore oil explorations, and only 62 inspectors work “the entire Gulf of Mexico,” which is “seven more than in 1985” or an increase of about 13 percent. In contrast, in 25 years “the number of exploration rigs soared and the number of deep-water oil-producing projects grew more than tenfold from 1988 to 2008.” The Post says a “key question” since the Gulf spill is whether the MMS “could carry out the required minimum once-a-month inspections or do a thorough job in an increasingly complex area.”

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