I am writing to correct some of the mis-perceptions of the BP settlement expressed in Slim Smith’s article of Oct. 31. As a practicing attorney in Columbus, I have personal and professional experience with the BP settlement, and I would like to share these thoughts. First, let me agree with Mr. Smith that no one should accept money under false pretense or based on a slight of hand. The BP oil spill was a tragedy in every sense of the word. Eleven people died. Millions of gallons of oil were wasted. Thousands of square miles of the Gulf of Mexico were tainted and hundreds of miles of beaches coated in polluting sludge. Birds, fish and other wildlife were put at risk.
If the damage had stopped at the beaches, that would have been tragedy enough, but it didn’t. The economic damage of the BP oil spill ranged first to the coastal economy, then to the inland counties and finally throughout the state of Mississippi. It was easy to see the impact to the coastal businesses; shrimpers forced out of work, beach resorts closed and all the business that thrive on summer tourism were immediately hit hard by the effects of the oil spill.
As time passed, the ripple effects were felt by counties and the state in the loss of tax revenues. The economic impact of the BP oil spill ranged far from the coast and was not limited to tourism, seafood or related businesses.
Inevitably, the court system was called on to sort out the rights and responsibilities of all parties. To its credit, BP did not deny its responsibility. Working with economists, accountants and some of the best lawyers in the nation, BP reached a settlement that would compensate businesses injured by the oil spill.
The settlement was approved by a federal court and is in place today. You can be sure that BP was not interested in giving away money to those who did not deserve it. BP sought to pay only those businesses that had a quantifiable financial loss resulting from the oil spill. In order to qualify, a business must show, by its financial records, that it meets one of 18 tests; each of which is designed to tell whether the business’ economic downturn was caused by the oil spill or just part of the national economy.
Contrary to Mr. Smith’s suggestion, this is not jackpot justice. It is not a federal giveaway program. It is a court supervised program by which BP takes responsibility for its error and compensates those who suffered provable damages. This is how the justice system is supposed to work.
The economic tests vary according to the business’ location, but if a business at the northern tip of the state actually suffered an economic loss, that business has just as much a right to be made whole as a business in Biloxi.
The leadership of every business in Mississippi has a duty and a right to see if that business was harmed by the economic impact of the BP oil spill. The tests are fair, but they are not simple. Fortunately, Mississippi businesses can call on their attorneys and accountants to help in making this determination. Not every business was harmed and not every business will qualify to be compensated under the BP settlement. For those businesses that do qualify, the settlement is not “free-money,” it is a correction of harm done.
Mr. Smith’s rejection of a something-for-nothing philosophy is exactly right, but let’s not criticize honest businessmen and women for seeking justice. The BP oil spill was a tragedy. Among men and women of principle, BP taking responsibility for the harm it caused is the right thing to do and those businesses that were harmed do nothing wrong by accepting the money due them. That is justice. That is integrity in action.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.