Today, the Obama administration announced initial steps to improve oversight of BP’s processing of claims of economic damage caused by the foreign oil giant’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. After weeks of growing complaints and a huge backlog of unpaid claims, National Incident Commander Thad Allen met with BP officials and wrote a letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward demanding “access to the BP claims database with personally identifiable information removed.” On Sunday, Hayward lavishly praised his own company’s performance in a BBC interview, saying BP had paid “every claim” by instituting a claims process that takes only “48 hours”:
We’ve taken a claims process that has taken 45 days traditionally in the United States and shortened it to 48 hours. It takes 12 seconds when you phone the BP claims line to be put into the process, be given a number. If you turn up at the claims office, within 48 hours you’re given a cheque.
Hayward’s fantastical 48-hour deadline is not being enforced by the government, however. Instead, unpaid claimants must wait 90 days before the federal government has promised to take action:
Any claim that is denied by BP or not settled within 90 days of submission to BP may be presented to the Coast Guard for relief from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund through the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC).
The administration should make BP stand behind its CEO’s words, and mandate Hayward’s purported 48-hour turnaround for processing claims. Better yet, the administration could take the Center for American Progress’s suggestion to take over the claims process from this environmental criminal. For fishermen, hotel owners, and other Gulf Coast businesses, a ninety-day wait would be an economic death sentence.