Local leaders incensed over BP's latest move - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Local leaders incensed over BP's latest move

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New Orleans, La. — Some local leaders in communities affected by BP's 2010 oil spill are furious about the oil giant's latest move relating to the spill.

BP ran ads in national newspapers this week about its legal fight over a settlement agreement, and also sent out letters warning lawyers for Gulf Coast businesses that it may try to get back some of the multi-billion dollar settlement funds their clients are counting on.

BP believes there is a misinterpretation of said settlement.

"Trial lawyers and some politicians are attempting to capitalize on this misinterpretation by encouraging the submission of thousands of claims for inflated losses, or losses that do not even exist," reads the ad, which appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and some other prominent national publications.

The wording has incensed some local officials.

"It's just another scare tactic and it's horrible," said Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.

"I'm just flabbergasted that BP continues to try to avoid responsibility," said Jefferson Parish President John Young.

Wetlands in both Plaquemines and Jefferson were sullied by the oil which gushed out of BP's Macondo well for months, and individuals and businesses in those areas were also affected by the spill.

BP's ad ran just days before the company's appeal of the interpretation of the settlement is to be heard in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The hearing is set for July 8.

"The absurd payments that have resulted from the misinterpretation demonstrate that this is not the settlement we signed up for," said BP spokesman Geoff Morrell.

Young bristles at such assertions. "Instead of spending the money on all these bright-colored ads and TV commercials they ought to be spending the money on cleaning up the coast that they've destroyed," Young stated.

"We've been going through this from day one of this spill where they're good at throwing things out there with no merit to them. So if there's something that they're specifically talking about, say we overpaid 'blank' claim and we believe that this was fraud or whatever... but don't put it out there that the lawyers or the teams working on these claims for these businesses and fishermen did something wrong," said Nungesser.

Both Nungesser and Young said there are victims who have not been paid claims or made whole by they funds received.

"BP says that they want to make sure that the people who are entitled to settlement get their money. I know a lot of people that are down in Grand Isle, shrimp processing plant owners who haven't gotten a settlement," said Young.

But BP defends its ad campaign. "Since the Deepwater Horizon accident, we've used our advertising to keep the public informed of our economic and environmental restoration efforts in the Gulf. Our new print ad continues that practice. It explains the actions we are taking to defend the contract we agreed to and to assure the integrity of the claims process. But it is also intended to make clear that BP remains as committed today as it was three years ago to doing the right thing. While we are actively litigating the payments by the claims program for inflated and even fictitious losses, we remain fully committed to paying legitimate claims due to the accident," said the company spokesman.

But some plaintiffs' attorneys believe that BP simply underestimated what the settlement would cost the company, and said the company is attempting to discourage people from pursuing claims. They also fired off a strongly worded letter to BP in response.

"BP's letter to claimants is a hollow intimidation tactic; it is disingenuous, inaccurate and inappropriate. One thing the letter is not is surprising, given that BP has been suspended from doing business with the US government for a lack of corporate integrity, and pleaded guilty to lying to the federal government about the spill," said plaintiffs' co-lead counsel Stephen Herman in a statement to FOX 8 News.

"I've got every confidence that everything's been done the right way. If there have been some wrongful payments, instead of running ads in the paper insinuating something wrong has been done, explain what's been done wrongly. You know, talk about specifics," said Nungesser.

Early on, BP estimated it would shell out about $7.8 billion to resolve claims by businesses and individuals. The company now refuses to make any fresh estimates.

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