June 21, 2010 -- Armed with $20 billion from BP, an independent commission aims to get residents and businesses hurt by the BP Gulf oil spill their money faster and with less hassle -- all without any help from BP, the head of the commission said today.
"BP and the administration have made it very clear: I'm running an independent claims facility," Ken Feinberg, the man who was in charge of the 9/11 fund, told "Good Morning America" today. "The BP claims facility is being transitioned over to me. It will be an independent facility, free from BP."
Feinberg said the claims facility's top mission is to get the claim payments out much more quickly, including "lump sum payments" in the case of emergencies.
"We want to get these claims out quicker and we want to get these claims out with more transparency so people have more certainty as to what they are going to receive," Feinberg said. "We want to do it in the next couple of weeks so that people who are down in the gulf, who are in desperate financial straits as a result of this spill, are receiving financial compensation."
Feinberg also said his organization will consider allowing online filings, lump sum assistance for emergency cases and translating forms into several other languages.
"There is a good deal we can do," he said.
Already over $600 million has been requested during the claims process and BP has sent out 32,000 checks totaling over $105 million. The company has spent $2 billion fighting the spill, the Associated Press reported.
Feinberg said his commission is on the lookout for fraudulent claims and will use the state's laws as a guide when determining whether a claim is legitimate.
Just as Feinberg distanced the claims process from BP, the oil giant distanced itself from its own CEO, Tony Hayward, over the weekend after his contentious appearance before a congressional committee but before photos surfaced of the BP big wig sailing on a yacht off the coast of England.
Outrage as BP CEO Goes Yachting
"He is now handing over the operations, the daily operations, to Bob Dudley and he will be home and be there and be here," BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg told British TV network Sky News Friday.
Just a day later, Hayward was spotted on the deck of a 52-foot yacht cruising in the Atlantic, inflaming already raw attitudes on the Gulf.
"It says that he really doesn't give a flying flip about any of us -- that's amazing," one resident told "Good Morning America."
A spokesman for BP said Hayward's day off was "a rare moment of private time" and said that "no matter where he is, he is always in touch with what is happening within BP."
Hayward answered some of his critics on Twitter, saying that the oil spill is still his "top priority."
"He wants his life back, maybe he's trying to go on with his normal life, you know?" Gulf coast resident Mark Trahan said. "It's unfortunate we can't do that."
BP also suffered a public relations setback this weekend when internal documents came to light which revealed BP's worst case scenario for an oil spill was much worse than any estimates the company made publicly.
According to the documents, 100,000 barrels -- or 4.2 million gallons -- of crude could leak out of the well each day if the broken blowout preventer were removed -- 40,000 barrels a day more than the high end of the latest estimate of crude spewing into the Gulf.
"BP has been either lying or is grossly incompetent from day one," Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey said Sunday.
The same day, BP spokesman Tony Odone defended the company and called the number "irrelevant."
"I don't think there's been any underestimating," Odone told Reuters Sunday. "Since there are no plans to remove the blowout preventer, the number is irrelevant."