“Who Can You Trust?” is an ongoing look at some of the main players in the Gulf of Mexico oil-spill disaster. We analyze the media appearances and public statements of those covering, controlling, and combating the spill to determine who’s spinning for personal advantage, who’s playing to the crowd, and who (or what) we can truly count on.
Artist, author, pirate
Mobile, Ala., native Buffett has not abandoned the gulf. He's doing his best to drum up tourist dollars for the beach communities that depend on vacationers. Already this week, Buffett has opened a new hotel in Pensacola, Fla. (which was in the works long before the spill), and scheduled a free, star-studded charity concert on the beach to attract tourists. When that show had to be postponed due to Tropical Storm Alex, he still played a surprise show last night at his sister's restaurant in Gulf Shores, Ala.
Pay attention: to how many other celebs answer Buffett's call and play his rescheduled concert.
Good Old-Fashioned Ingenuity
90 percent perspiration
The spill is bringing out some of the best in people: generosity, compassion, empathy. It’s also resulting in lots of clever, quick thinking. Witness A Whale, a ship designed to be the world’s largest supertanker until it was retrofitted, soon after the spill began, to be the world’s largest skimmer. The boat can “ingest” 15 million gallons of water a day, and will then use internal machinery to remove the oil from the water. A Whale is still awaiting final EPA approval. Meanwhile, the federal government has allocated $20 million toward the Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative, which pays farmers in lowland areas to flood their fields and grow certain plants to provide alternate habitats and food sources for birds being displaced by the spill.
Pay attention: to whether A Whale receives EPA clearance. Because it can't get all the oil out of the water before dumping that water back into the sea, it fails to meet EPA standards. But experts (including the Guide's beloved Ed Overton) say the benefits of A Whale far outweigh the risks. Considering that the current efforts have cleaned only 28 million gallons of water in total, A Whale has a lot of promise.
Yesterday, Feinberg—who is responsible for making sure the $20 billion held in escrow is distributed fairly—testified before the House Small Business Committee. He promised transparency and answered basic questions that had been troubling small-business owners, while admitting that some answers—for instance, what constitutes a "legitimate claim"—were still being worked out. Feinberg has the authority to make that call, and indicated yesterday that not everyone would get paid: for instance, businesses damaged by the "perception" of the oil spill, such as hotels and tourist destinations, will likely not be eligible if there is no actual oil on their property. Feinberg also criticized BP for not moving quickly enough or paying enough money to claimants, and says he plans to start a fund that will give six-month lump sums, rather than month-to-month payments.
Pay attention: to everything. The details that Feinberg is still working out will determine whether large segments of local economies can sustain the spill. He gets points for his honesty and his expertise, as well as the concrete plans that are already in place. But there's still much to be determined.
BP as Cash Cow
Former economic reality
BP had a roller-coaster week, but after showing some corporate good will to small businesses affected by the spill, it's under fire again for making the claims process too complicated. After sending BP pages of forms seeking reimbursement for cleanup costs (each page printed on government letterhead with full contact information), Escambia County, Fla., officials received a letter stating, “We have not been able to contact you regarding your claim as we do not have a working phone number to reach you." The BP letter also doesn't make clear which claim is being questioned, where the letter is being sent from, or how to contact BP to alleviate its confusion.
Meanwhile, the oil company Anadarko has been billed by BP for clean-up costs. The Texas-based company owns a quarter share in the Deepwater Horizon rig, and BP had tried to stick it with a $272 million bill to cover its share of the costs. Anadarko, however, previously indicated that it was BP’s negligence that led to the spill, and therefor BP is responsible for the clean up.
Vuvuzelas for BP
In order to ensure that BP is adequately “feeling the pain” of the spill, a Brooklyn man has started Vuvuzelas for BP, an online campaign that aims to raise $2,000 to pay for vuvuzelas to be played outside the BP office. (The first $1,000 goes toward the vuvuzela purchase, the other $1,000 to the Gulf Disaster Fund.) If there’s any way to garner sympathy for the world’s most hated company, forcing it to listen to vuvuzelas might just be it. Considering the founder of this project also happens to be a video producer who will “definitely be making a video,” there are better places to send your support.
Pay attention: to what happens next—the project has already raised more than $3,000.