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Hood wants the GCCF, Feinberg to open the books

July 12th, 2011 1 comment

Real quick, here’s the full press release from Attorney General Jim Hood’s office.

Attorney General (AG) Jim Hood has filed a petition with the Court to force the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) and its administrator, Kenneth R. Feinberg to obey an AG subpoena pertaining to certain documents relevant to an investigation of the BP claims process.

 “Mr. Feinberg and the GCCF have continually made promises of compliance, but have failed to fully provide necessary information despite our repeated requests and reasonable efforts to resolve the issues,” said Attorney General Hood.  “All they have managed to do is delay, deny, deceive and dissemble.”

 The Attorney General’s Petition, filed in Hinds County Chancery Court today, asks the GCCF and Feinberg to respond to the subpoena that was served in February.  The petition says that the Attorney General has reason to believe that the GCCF and Feinberg may have violated or may be violating the Consumer Protection Act, and that he needs the documents requested in the subpoena to make this determination. 

 “We hope that by asking a court to open up the GCCF claims process for review, we will be able to ensure that victims of last year’s oil spill are being adequately and fairly compensated for their losses,” said Attorney General Hood.  “My job is to protect the citizens of Mississippi.”

Categories: Gulf Coast oil spill, News Tags:

Vicksburg, and its waterfront, brace for the worst

May 9th, 2011 1 comment

If you’ve read this week’s edition of the Mississippi Business Journal, hopefully you’ve seen the story we did on how Vicksburg’s business community is handling the threat, tangible and otherwise, the flood is presenting.

Other than the companies that make their living off the Mississippi River, the majority of Vicksburg’s businesses will remain untouched by the water, thanks to the city’s bluff.

One retail outlet that is in immediate danger is Discount Furniture Barn, which sits on Jackson Street right next to the River, and whose owner, Mary Landers, was quoted at length in our story. Magnolia Marketplace and a photographer visited Landers at her shop last Wednesday afternoon. The water was maybe 60 yards from her front door step. Judging by a photo we saw Monday morning on the Vicksburg Post’s website, it seems to have arrived at her building, or at least gotten really close. We called the number listed for Discount Furniture; it rang unanswered.

Up the bluff, the Washington Street business corridor hopes tourists aren’t too freaked out by media coverage and stay away, mistakenly thinking all of Vicksburg is submerged. It’s not. The waterfront, where the casinos are, is, or will be shortly. The Military Park is high and dry, as are every department store and restaurant.

They’ll stay that way, too. To repeat: Vicksburg is not underwater. Unless you had a tugboat cruise lined up, you shouldn’t change your travel plans. The Mississippi Coast suffered through all last summer with the national media’s screams of oil-drenched beaches, when that simply wasn’t the case.

Here’s hoping Vicksburg and its sister River cities don’t go through the same thing this summer.

Corollas not on Toyota’s latest recall list

October 21st, 2010 4 comments

A lot of folks lost a lot when that oil well in the Gulf of Mexico started gushing.

If there were a winner, it was Toyota. Just before the well blew Toyota was the hottest news around, and it wasn’t because everybody liked Camrys.

Rather, the company was being excoriated by consumers, industry analysts, even Congress for what was considered its less-than-ideal response to a wave of problems with its vehicles, most of them to do with sudden unintended acceleration. So when the Gulf started filling with oil, Toyota’s PR nightmare was replaced with BP’s.

Toyota recall news returned today, when the company announced that it was issuing recalls for several of its Lexus models and its Avalon because of problems with their brake fluid and fuel pumps. Nearly 750,000 cars in the U.S. and 600,000 in Japan are affected.

The good news: The Corolla, the compact sedan Blue Springs workers will begin producing next year, is not on the list. The bad news: This latest recall brings to 10 million the total number of vehicles Toyota has recalled in the past year, including 1.33 million Corollas in August due to concerns over their engines stalling.

This could be an illustration of Toyota being overly cautious. Or it could be a legitimate recall. Either way, Toyota seems determined not to let this recall issue eat it up like it did last spring.

Is the moratorium really over?

October 12th, 2010 No comments

Earlier today, the White House lifted the ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The moratorium, which was issued after the Deepwater Horizon’s Macondo Well started gushing April 21 in the Gulf of Mexico, was originally set to expire Nov. 30.

Two observations:

1. The Obama Administration was likely tired of the moratorium being an albatross around the neck of Democrats in the heat of midterm campaigns.

2. It likely will remain there.

Democrats and Republicans alike have already said the additional layer of safety rules and regulations attached to any new deepwater drilling are cumbersome. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, who has been holding up an Obama appointee in protest of the original ban, just issued a press release saying she will continue to do so while she monitors the speed with which drilling resumes.

Mississippi’s Third District Cong. Gregg Harper, R-Pearl, said in his own statement that the “Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) does not presently have adequate resources to allow for the resumption of offshore drilling. The federal government must provide these resources to ensure an efficient approval process for companies wishing to resume operations. Unless these new regulations are diligently implemented, we still have a de facto moratorium putting more jobs at risk.”

Gov. Haley Barbour said he looked forward “to receiving the details” of the lifted ban.

There’s likely a political devil or two in them.

New round of spill finger-pointing begins

September 8th, 2010 10 comments

British Petroleum released yesterday a report related to the oil spill. It follows BP’s internal investigation into the how and why behind the disaster.

BP took some of the blame, but not all of it. Transocean, which owned the rig that exploded and sank, is furious because BP said it was partly responsible for the mess. Several other companies, including Halliburton, aren’t very happy either, for similar reasons. You can read the report here, but you better block off the rest of the day, because it’s almost 200 pages long.

The litigation related to the spill  is just getting started, and will most likely last well into the next decade. So it’s not surprising that the companies who had a part in the construction and operation of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the Macondo Well are pointing fingers. It’s financial preservation.

Categories: Gulf Coast oil spill, News Tags:

David Hasselhoff — promoting Coast tourism?

August 13th, 2010 4 comments

Observations and opinions to close out the week …

Gov. Haley Barbour announced in a press release this afternoon that the CW Network will air a one-hour special Aug. 27 that will “highlight the resilience and spirit of Gulf Coast residents.”

The timing of the event, designed to promote tourism, is right, considering Aug. 27 is two days before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and what with the oil spill and everything. Mississippi residents can even appear as extras.

What is curious, though, is the man who will serve as the event’s host — David Hasselhoff.

Knight Rider David Hasselhoff? Yes.

Lifeguard David Hasselhoff? You bet.

Cheeseburger aficionado David Hasselhoff? Yep.

The special will air from the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi, which also happens to have a franchise of the hamburger joint Mugshots. Just sayin’.

Moving on, if you’ve read this week’s edition of the MBJ — and if you haven’t, what’s the hold-up? — you’ve read seen the efforts to lure the SEC Baseball Tournament to Trustmark Park in Pearl. Metro Jackson is fighting an uphill battle to land the tournament, for two reasons: The Confederate emblem on the state flag; and the size, or relative lack thereof, of Trustmark Park.

The Southeastern Conference has already said the flag will be a part of its evaulation, and Trustmark Park is the second smallest stadium of any involved in the bidding. Magnolia Marketplace would be surprised — really, really surprised — if the Tournament ended up anywhere other than Memphis. Memphis has made it known for years, basically ever since Autozone Park was built in the late 1990s, that it would like to host the event. With the biggest stadium of all the cities pushing to host, and with hundreds of hotels and restraurants in the area, many within walking distance of the park, it’s our guess that it’s Memphis’ to lose.

The SEC would take a lot of heat if it simply  handed the Tournament to Memphis. Opening it up for bids is probably a way of covering a few tracks.

Barbour and Mabus discuss the oil spill

June 30th, 2010 2 comments

Current Gov. Haley Barbour and former Gov. Ray Mabus, who’s now the Secretary of the Navy/Gulf Clean-up Czar, appeared together at a press conference this morning, and three themes kept recurring:

1. BP is responsible for funding the plan to restore the Gulf Coast to its pre-spill condition.

2. The plan will be formulated by Coast stakeholders and not the federal government.

3. Right now, there is no plan.

“I don’t have the answers now,” Mabus said. “I shouldn’t have the answers now.”

In an effort to perhaps glean some answers, Mabus has spent the past several days in Louisiana and is headed today to Mississippi and Alabama before traveling to Florida.

He will meet with government officials, business owners, residents, basically everybody who’s been affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster that just started its 11th week.

Barbour made the point a couple of weeks ago that those most affected by the spill should develop an environmental and economic recovery plan, while the federal government merely implemented it, instead of the other way around. Mabus said today he was on board with that concept.

“It’s really important this be a bottom-up process and not vice versa. I understand people are worried, they’re scared, they’re mad about what’s happened, and they have every right to be.”

A good portion of the anger has been directed toward BP since oil started spewing into the Gulf of Mexico April 21. The company’s CEO, Tony Hayward, hasn’t helped the situation with some of his comments.

Magnolia Marketplace asked Mabus how he would rate BP’s handling of the situation. He paused for about five seconds and said, “I think I’m going to rate my boss’ response to this. I think the president’s done a great job and has moved aggresively on this. I’m not in a position to rate (BP).”

Barbour had his own rating for the immediate efforts to remove at least some of the oil from Mississippi waters. In short, the state needs more skimming vessels than it has now, Barbour said, in what he called “a better execution” of the overall approach. “We had a significant amount of oil in Harrison County yesterday,” Barbour added, to go with the oil that washed up on the beaches of Jackson County earlier this week.

Barbour said more skimmers should arrive soon, now that an agreement has been struck with Sweden and a handful of other countries to provide assistance. About 4,000 people are working now to divert the oil from the state’s beaches and clean it up if and when it gets there.

Mabus flew over the spill yesterday.

“The scope of this thing is huge,” he said. “It’s bigger than anything we’ve ever faced, and not just a little bigger. It’s magnitudes bigger.”

Feinberg meets the Mississippi press

June 18th, 2010 12 comments

Ken Feinberg, who will oversee the process devoted to paying oil spill-related claims, was in Jackson visiting with Gov. Haley Barbour this morning and held about a 30-minute Q&A with assembled media.

Before we get into what was said, let’s talk a little about Feinberg. He’s an interesting character. He administered the fund created by the federal government to pay victims of 9/11. He did the same with a private fund set up to reimburse victims and relatives of victims of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

The Wall Street Journal has dubbed  him “The Special Master of America.”

The first thing I noticed about Feinberg when he took the podium today was how enthusiastic he seemed, and how his voice boomed. I kept trying to come up with a good way to describe him to somebody who had never seen him, and the best I could do was this: He’s Houston Nutt with a thick Boston accent.

Anyway, Feinberg will set up an independent claims facility he says will be independent of the White House and BP. BP is funding the cost to run the program, whose budget, Feinberg says, is virtually unlimited.

The goal is to reimburse any legitimate loss related to the spill — business interruption, wage loss, personal injury, even death claims, to name a few. BP will pay those claims, Feinberg and Barbour emphasized repeatedly.

That’s about all we’re certain of right now. What separates a legitimate claim from one that’s not is something Feinberg says he has yet to establish guidelines for.

He did say that he would rely heavily on Mississippi law for answers. For instance, if somebody files a claim whose legitimacy is less than clear, Feinberg would turn to Mississippi law to determine if the claim, if it were filed as a lawsuit, would be eligible for settlement or reward money arising from litigation.

“We’ll be looking at, if you go to court in Mississippi, where does the law cut (settlement or reward eligibility) off?,” Feinberg said.

Speaking of lawsuits, Feinberg said that if somebody files a claim, there is a strong possibility part of the terms of the claim being paid will include the claimant waiving his/her right to sue BP afterward, especially if the claimant receives a lump sum payment.

“That’s the way I see it,” Feinberg said.

BP has established an escrow fund that will, starting this year, receive annual payments of $5 billion until it reaches $20 billion, to pay spill claims.

“We’re entitled to recover all of the losses (from BP), even administrative costs,” Barbour said. Barbour had raised a few questions about the escrow earlier this week. He said he was worried pumping $20 billion into a fund immediately would rob BP of the working capital it needed to continue to make money so it could pay spill claims. He was satisfied with the annual installment plan.

Feinberg and Barbour both seemed comfortable that $20 billion would be enough to cover the damage done by the spill. Feinberg added that bankruptcy for BP “is not an option.”

In Gulfport, it’s hot but there’s no oil

June 15th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace took a trip to the Mississippi Coast this past weekend to watch the wife compete in a tennis tournament.

Here’s what we know: It’s as hot as I can ever remember it being this time of year. But that’s about as bad as the news got as far as the conditions in Gulfport, where we stayed. The beaches are clear. The water of the Mississippi Sound is murky but it always has been. There was no oil that I could see anywhere — in the water or on the beach. There was no smell of oil that I detected.

So take that for what it’s worth.

This oil spill mess is going to affect just about every industry and its interests in Mississippi, and it will affect them for a long time, not unlike Katrina.

So this week we’re continuing our look at how some of those industries are adjusting their game plans and preparing for if/when oil reaches the Mississippi Sound or our beaches.

Oil and coal start the week

June 7th, 2010 No comments

So it seems as if the cap BP installed over the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico might be working, at least slightly, depending on who you ask.

If the leak was stopped completely right now, the clean-up and aftermath of billions of gallons of oil floating in the Gulf would be astronomical and take many years to complete.

We’re working on a package of stories for next week’s MBJ taking a look at some of the economics of the disaster.

In other energy news, Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley will address the crowd at today’s Stennis Capitol Press Corps luncheon. Presley cast the sole “no” vote on Mississippi Power Company’s bid to build a lignite coal-fired electric plant in Kemper County. Presley is never shy about giving his opinion, and today should be no different. Magnolia Marketplace will have the particulars of his speech as soon as we can.