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05.06.10

A Florida Official Calls the Feds on BP

As oil-spill victims await compensation, gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink tells The Daily Beast that the petroleum giant doesn’t have a clue. Rick Outzen reports.

“BP clearly doesn’t know what it’s doing,” Florida’s CFO Alex Sink told The Daily Beast.

Sink had just spent seven hours traversing Escambia County, Florida, meeting with local officials, tourism-related business owners, and two Obama Cabinet members, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. It was her third visit to the Pensacola area in the past four days.

When asked what she had learned from the meetings, Sink said, “Well, I heard 50 times that BP is the responsible party and will pay all claims.”

BP is flying by the seat of its pants.

Sink has her doubts.

BP says it has local adjusters on the ground that can process claims up to $5,000 on the spot, but Sink, who is the Democratic candidate for governor this November, worries that no one is overseeing the adjusters and protecting Florida’s citizens and small businesses.

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“We have insurance laws for how to deal with hurricanes,” she says. “The Department of Financial Services has a clear role. We are advocates for our people. We set up insurance villages that deal with insurance claims in the stricken community. I have the names of the key executives of every insurance company doing business in the state and can intervene on  behalf of our small businesses and citizens.”

Sink warns, “This is a whole new process. There are no operative laws for dealing with claims from this oil spill. There are no disclosure requirements or other protections.

“BP is flying by the seat of its pants.”

What really irks Sink is that she still hasn’t gotten the name and contact information of any BP executive with the authority to discuss the claims process.

Monday, Sink was told by BP Director of Civic Affairs Liz Castro that she could call BP’s 1-800 number.

“Tuesday, I met Kyle, some poor guy hired by BP to handle claims, that is operating out of a hotel room by himself,” Sink told The Daily Beast before her last meeting of the day with local small business owners at the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce.

“Yesterday, Kirk got me the name and phone number of his boss, Jack Rig, who was in Louisiana and works for a claim-adjustment firm hired by BP,” she said. “Today, I wrote a letter to Lamar McKay, BP America president, demanding a high-level BP executive be in direct contact with me to resolve these economic and financial issues that are beginning to crop up right now.”

Sink says she doesn’t believe that BP should process the claims of people impacted by the BP oil spill. She came to Pensacola to meet with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to push for the federal government to step in and take control of the claims process.

Sink pointed out that FEMA already has a claims process in place, and she says that a new layer of bureaucracy isn’t needed.

“The federal government should take BP out of the claim process,” says Sink. “Then, the federal government should go to BP for the money. My focus is the economic welfare of Florida businesses and its citizens. I want every dime lost by our businesses and citizens to be compensated by BP.”

After our interview, Sink met with local business leaders in the conference room of the Pensacola Chamber. Grover Robinson, chairman of the Escambia Board of County Commissioners, asked Sink to please help the county deal with this “environmental purgatory.”

“Show me the money,” Robinson said. “We are told by BP that our plans will be reimbursed but we can’t get a single idea approved.”

Sink told Robinson and others that she believes that Governor Charlie Crist will call for a special session of the Florida legislature to discuss how to deal with the economic and environmental impacts of the BP oil spill.

“The governor was already considering a special session this summer on ethics and accountability,” says Sink, “to prevent some oil man from flying into the capital in the dark of night and start spreading money around… which is what happened last session when the lawmakers pushed for offshore drilling.”

Sink isn’t concerned about the $75 million federal cap on how much an oil company has to pay for damages such as lost wages and economic suffering.

“BP is going to pay,” she says, “or we’re going to sue.”

Rick Outzen is publisher and editor of Independent News, the alternative newsweekly for Northwest Florida.