DALLAS — State and local officials dealing with the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico criticized BP’s response to the incident during Wednesday’s special two-hour briefing to the Louisiana Legislature.
State agency directors and parish presidents from the affected region said the oil company is not responding quickly to damage claims, and has yet to provide officials with a coherent plan to protect coastal areas.
Angèle Davis, director of the Department of Administration, said the state expects BP to reimburse it for expenditures related to the oil spill.
“This incident could not have come at a worse time,” Davis said. “We’re facing billion-dollar deficits, we’re getting ready for hurricane season, and the state is still recovering from the storms of five years ago.”
“We are concerned about the state’s cash flow, but we’re managing to lean forward to protect our coastline and maintain the Louisiana way of life,” she said.
Davis said the state has allocated $16.4 million of a $25 million payment from BP to public safety expenses, which she said could be as much as $40 million at this point.
The oil spill will require additional services and expensive shoreline restoration, she said, while it reduces state and local revenue and taxes due to lost economic activity.
“British Petroleum is the responsible party here,” Davis said. “This is BP’s spill.”
She added: “BP has billions of dollars, and we expect them to step up and fulfill the promises they made to the parishes and to our state.”
Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the state requested BP’s oil-spill remediation plan shortly after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank off the Louisiana coast on April 20.
“We still don’t have a plan from BP and the Coast Guard on how they’re going to protect our resources,” Graves said.
Robert Barham, director of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said the state has so far received no response from BP on its request for $457 million over the next 20 years to develop a testing and marketing system for local seafood.
He said the inspection and certification system is needed to protect the state’s $2 billion commercial fishing industry.
“If we can’t look our customers in the eye and tell them that our seafood is safe and has not been contaminated by hydrocarbons, our product is finished,” Barham said.
Curt Eysink, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission, said he expects unemployment claims to climb significantly due to the six-month moratorium on new deepwater wells and the shutting of most fishing areas due to the disaster.
Eysink said his agency is bracing for an increase in unemployment compensation claims because of the disruption of the seafood industry and the moratorium on offshore drilling.
“We could see up to 20,000 people being laid off,” he said. “It that happens, it would be the equivalent to a storm surge on a high tide.”
Robert Fryar, a senior vice president at BP, told the Louisiana lawmakers that the oil giant stands behind its promise to pay all legitimate claims arising from the massive oil spill.
Fryar said that claims are being processed at 25 offices in the region. Of the 30,000 claims for lost wages that have been received, he said, BP has paid 19,000 of them.