Gulf Watch: Cover-Ups! GCCF Broken Promises, Alabama's New Immigration Law and More Gulf Pollution
As the BP oil disaster claims process leaves the hands of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility and goes under court supervision, there's unfinished business, or rather an unfulfilled promise that it looks like Kenneth Feinberg's old outfit may be trying to cover up. Meanwhile, Alabama covers up its ugly immigration law with an even uglier one. Finally, in Alabama, a ship captain gets caught dumping plastic bottles that once contained insecticide into the Gulf, and then yup, tried to cover it up.
- Last week, Gulf resident Kent Haughton wrote in Bridge the Gulf about how he still hasn't been made whole by BP after losing business due to the BP oil disaster. A Department of Justice audit found there are thousands of Gulf Coast residents in a similar position -- nearly 10,000 of BP's victims were wrongfully denied by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, or received less than they were owed, the audit found. The GCCF said it would correct the error and pay 7,300 of those claimants. Haughton told us that the GCCF promised to pay those claimants by April 30, but that he has "not seen a dime." An email from GCCF, delivered to Haughton by his lawyer, reads, "If you are among the claimants who are to receive a payment or Determination Letter, you either have received it or will receive it by April 30, 2012." Haughton says this exact statement was also once on the GCCF website. Reading the website now, there's no mention of the April 30 promise, but Haughton says that's because the language was changed to read, "If you were among the claimants who were to receive a payment or Determination Letter, you should have already received it." I called GCCF last week to verify that they once had an April 30 promise, and asked them if they changed the language on their website. A representative took down my info and questions and said that a GCCF official would call me with answers, but no one has contacted me. Haughton's lawyer has verified the original April 30 deadline. But it's now almost the end of May and Haughton still hasn't received payment, or even a letter about his payment. We still want to know: If GCCF made promises to reach people by check or letter by April 30, why they haven't made good on that. Or if Haughton's claim was not one of those identified by the DOJ audit as deserving to be paid, how many other legitimate claims were missed by the audit? Remember, this isn't for the new claims that will come as a result of the BP settlement, this is for those who were supposed to be covered by the GCCF well before the settlement, as discovered through the DOJ audit. Claims in general are now handled through a court-supervised process, but the GCCF website says those referenced in the DOJ audit "should have already received" payment or a notice about their payment. But if they did in fact promise April 30, why was that language taken off the site?
- So, this one isn't really a cover up, in the sense that someone is trying to throw the rug over a mess they made. But suffice it to say that Alabama's original immigration bill HB 56 was pretty messy, with so many racial profiling allowances in it that it scared immigrant workers away from their jobs, and their kids away from their schools, dismantling families and the state's economy in the process. Now, Alabama has laid an even messier immigration bill -- HB 658 -- over that one, and it has even thornier restrictions, including a "Scarlet Letter" provision that publishes the names of immigrants who've had court matters. Gov. Robert Brentley head-faked a possible veto, but eventually signed the bill, setting back civil rights in the state notorious for its history of blocking civil rights. Back in March, we spoke with immigrant rights advocate Orlando Rosa, producer for the radio show La Jefa, who's been organizing against Alabama's nativist agenda. He told us then, "We want the state to make a big change and become 'Alabama the beautiful' as it is so-called, you know? But, if [HB 56] and what's going on in Montgomery keeps on, it's going to be really hard to see something positive." Read more about the fight against Alabama's anti-immigrant laws from advocate Ingrid Chapman of Catalyst Project here.
- We just received word that a captain for a Panamanian ship was just convicted for dumping a bunch of plastic bottles that once held insecticides into the Gulf of Mexico and then failing to log it in the ship's garbage records. It's against the law, specifically the International Convention to Prevent Pollution from Ships law, to discharge plastic in the sea. The captain, Prastana Taohim, pulled into a Mobile, Ala. port to have his ship inspected and gave the Coast Guard his garbage logs, but didn't tell them about the hundreds of insecticide bottles he tossed out. Insecticides are loaded with nitrogen compounds that contribute to hypoxia, the "dead zone" condition that has been slowly killing off aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf already suffers from a continuous stream of insecticides and pesticides delivered from the Mississippi River. Taohim was convicted of two counts of obstruction of justice including "covering up the pollution by creating a false and fictitious garbage log."
One thing we're not trying to cover up is Bridge the Gulf's new Tumblr! Please check it out and share with us your photos, videos, inforgraphics, quotes and stories about the Gulf Coast at http://bridgethegulf.tumblr.com/
New Orleans-based journalist Brentin Mock is Web Editor at Bridge The Gulf. He joins us after working with a number of Gulf Coast-based organizations including The Lens and Ocean Conservancy, and has reported extensively on the Gulf Coast for numerous outlets including Colorlines, The Daily Beast, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Essence, and The Root.