BP ‘Spillionaires' story stirs ire

by Heather Miller

A ProPublica/Washington Post investigation accuses local government administrators of BP money abuse and price gouging following the spill. Nonprofit ProPublica teamed up with The Washington Post to release a scathing report Wednesday on coastal communities that took part in extreme post oil spill price gouging and local governments that were less than prudent when spending BP money - and it sure didn't sit well with some blogs that have since responded.

The article, posted online at The Washington Post's website, begins with the headline "Spillionaires' are the new rich after BP oil spill payouts," and largely focuses on St. Bernard Parish administrators and how they handled the cleanup contracts and money flow following the spill:
Documents show that companies with ties to parish insiders got lucrative contracts and then charged BP for every possible expense. The prime cleanup company submitted bills with little or no documentation. A subcontractor billed BP $15,400 per month to rent a generator that usually cost $1,500 a month. Another company charged BP more than a $1 million a month for land it had been renting for less than $1,700 a month. Assignments for individual fishermen also fell under the control of political leaders.

In some ways, parish residents seemed to view the disaster and BP's culpability as an opportunity to recover from earlier blows. St. Bernard bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded almost every home in August 2005. Population dropped almost in half, from about 67,000 in 2000 to 36,000 in 2010, largely because people didn't go back after Katrina and the hurricanes that followed. Before the spill, the parish slashed its budget by 11 percent, cutting garbage collection, the fire department and mosquito control. There was just no money.

The spill changed that. Fishermen were paid to lay out protective booms to try to corral the oil. Contractors were hired to manage the cleanup and provide security. Claims money began flowing to people who said their lives had been upended by the crisis.
By Wednesday night, Kevin Allman, managing editor of New Orleans' Gambit newspaper, had responded to the ProPublica investigative report with his own headline posted on Gambit's website: "Who needs Rush Limbaugh when you've got ProPublica?"

Allman countered that in all the months ProPublica reporters may have spent in South Louisiana digging for corruption documents, they perhaps failed to interview the thousands of residents who truly have suffered from the spill, those "whose claims haven't been processed and are now bankrupt-aires and broke-aires."

Victimizing BP and making Gulf Coast residents the antagonists of the saga could understandably incite feelings of outrage among Louisianans, but lest we forget we've heard of those poor New Orleans waiters and waitresses cashing in on upwards of $10,000 from BP during a time when the Crescent City experienced record tourism numbers. (One New Orleans waiter I know received two $5,000 BP checks following the spill; he works at a chain restaurant that doesn't even use Louisiana seafood.)

But Allman also points out that ProPublica, a nonprofit journalism organization, has itself been at the center of controversy regarding compensation:
If we're going to talk ridiculous compensation, we can go back to 2009, when the journalism world was buzzing about the top salaries at the nonprofit ProPublica, where the top editor made $570K a year and senior reporters were pulling down more than $200K in salary and compensation. Their prerogative, of course, but I'd wager that's a bit more than the average fisherman or boat owner in Plaquemines has ever pulled down - before or after the oil disaster.

I wonder if Barker's reporting took her to Grand Isle to see the For Sale signs on every other house, or if she talked to any of the Raceland "spillionaires" Alex Woodward met last weekend, ailing "spillionaires" who can't work or get medical treatment despite some pretty scary chemical exposure symptoms. Would you call them "spillionaires" to their faces?