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BP: We've been too slow to pay Gulf oil spill claims

A federal official said Thursday that BP acknowledged it has been too slow in paying claims to people affected by the Gulf oil spill. BP has vowed to streamline the process.

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Indeed for many in the region, the oil spill may represent the last straw – the latest in a series of setbacks. Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina took their toll. Then the industry had one year of decent returns before the recession took hold, Mr. Fairey says. Then, in 2008 and 2009 the federal government dramatically tightened restrictions on red snapper to prevent overfishing.

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This year was shaping up as the turnaround year for the charter fleet, Fairey says, because the National Marine Fisheries Service was increasing the allowable catch for red snapper. The snapper season opened on June 1. On June 2, the government shut down the fisheries off the coast because of the oil spill.

"That basically put the offshore charter fleet 100 percent out of business," he says.

Congress pressures BP

He gives BP credit for turning many of the charter boat crews into seagoing sentries to spot oil approaching the coast. And he and other charter operators were meeting with BP today to build what he called a compensation template that takes into account the seasonal nature of the charter-fishing business. That template would then be applied to charter outfits in other ports affected by the spill.

Other business owners say they are teetering on the brink. Regina Shipp, who owns a restaurant with her husband in Orange, told the Associated Press that repeated calls to adjusters aren't being answered. "If BP doesn't pay us within two months, we'll be out of business."

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D) of California said today that a company that made $17 billion in 2009 should put payments to affected Gulf businesses ahead of dividend payouts.

The oil giant "should be paying these small businesses first," she told reporters after a meeting at the White House between President Obama and congressional leaders.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

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