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BP oil spill fund administrator defends his work

The administrator of BP's $20-billion restitution fund defended his work Monday, noting that he has already approved 300,000 claims for residents and businesses, paying out a total of $3.8 billion and counting.

Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth R. Feinberg has been criticized by coastal residents and public officials for overseeing a process that they say has been at times baffling, unfair and slow to fulfill BP's promise to make things right after the company's massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Feinberg said that the claims facility, while not perfect, was "doing what's intended," and doing its best to manage an enormous task.

He noted that the claims facility had received approximately 857,000 claims from more than 500,000 individuals and businesses who say they were harmed by the oil spill that began with the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

Starting on Aug. 23, when Feinberg took over the claims process from BP, the claims facility paid $2.6 billion to 169,000 individuals and businesses in an effort to provide "emergency relief" for losses immediately after the spill. The emergency program ended in late November, but the claims process for the restitution fund continues.

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All told, Feinberg said, 72% of all claims submitted since the emergency program ended have been "processed," meaning a payment or payment offer was made; a denial letter was sent; or a notice was sent requesting more documentation.

The claims process has been particularly tricky for residents in industries with informal business practices, such as fishing. Feinberg said there was nothing wrong with running a cash business, but such owners, he said, could not simply declare, "Trust me, we work down here with a handshake."

"That won't cut it," Feinberg said. "I need some documentation of that cash."

Feinberg said the claims facility would continue its work until August 2013. As for the total payouts it will make, he said, that "will depend on the nature, quality and volume of the claims."

richard.fausset@latimes.com

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