By BEN FELLER
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) BP will set aside $20 billion to pay the victims of the massive oil spill in the Gulf, senior administration officials said Wednesday, a move made under pressure by the White House as the company copes with causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
The independent fund will be led by lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw payments to families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In his current role, Feinberg is known as Obama's "pay czar," setting salary limits for companies getting the most aid from a $700 billion government bailout fund.
Obama was to announce the deal in a Rose Garden statement later Wednesday after wrapping up a meeting with BP executives at the White House.
The officials familiar with the details spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity before the announcement.
The still-unfolding disaster in the Gulf, as tens of thousands of gallons of oil continue to pour from the broken well daily, is jeopardizing the environment and ecosystems along with the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people across the coastal areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Those affected ranged from fishermen to restaurateurs to oil rig workers idled by Obama's temporary halt to new deep-sea oil drilling.
Several big questions remain unanswered, including when BP would start processing claims and paying people out of the fund; who and what would exactly be covered under the plan; how the White House and BP came up with a figure of $20 billion; and whether other involved companies will be required to chip in.
At $20 billion, the size of the fund is the same that was recommended by congressional Democrats.
BP has taken the brunt of criticism about the oil spill because it was the operator of the Deepwater Horizon rig that sunk. It also is a majority owner of the undersea well that has been spewing oil since the explosion.
But when the day of reckoning finally comes, it may not be the only one having to pay up. That's because Swiss-based Transocean Ltd. owned a majority interest in the rig. Anadarko Petroleum, based in The Woodlands, Texas, has a 25 percent non-operating interest in the well.
Feinberg ran the unprecedented $7 billion government compensation program for the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. It was a job that lasted nearly three years as he decided how much compensation families of the victims should get, largely based on how much income they would have earned in a lifetime.
As pay czar, Feinberg has capped cash salaries at $500,000 this year for the vast majority of the top executives at the five major companies that received bailout funding: American International Group, GMAC Financial Services, Chrysler Financial, Chrysler and General Motors.
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