Slimantics: BP settlement offers ethical dilemma

October 31, 2012 10:13:55 AM

Slim Smith - [email protected]


I was pretty confident Alwyn H. Luckey had picked the wrong audience for what he was proposing. 


Luckey, an attorney from Ocean Springs who is intimately involved in the legal proceedings that resulted from the BP oil spill, had a fascinating story to tell.  


If you are a business owner anywhere in Mississippi, BP has a check with your name on it. It could be a pretty big check, in fact. 


Ostensibly, BP will compensate everyone who suffered loss as a result of the massive Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf in 2010. 


But here's the kicker: You don't really have to have suffered a loss from the oil spill to get some money. 


Virtually every business in the state will qualify, provided of course, that business was not miraculously immune to what is considered the greatest economic disaster since The Great Depression. 


So, yea, everybody qualifies. 


"It is part of my Christian duty to spread the word," Luckey told his audience. 


Luckey said a furniture maker in Tupelo and a car dealer in Tunica have filed claims and will be getting checks.  


Some businesses will benefit even more. 


If, for example, you can file a claim as part of the tourism industry, the checks get much bigger. 


And tourism is broadly defined in this settlement. 


Luckey said if you owned a convenience store within a mile of a four-lane highway or Interstate and that highway or Interstate is connected to other four-lane highways or Intestates that are linked to the Coast, you would be able to file under tourism status. With that designation, your settlement would be five times the amount of your losses. 


Here's how the settlement claim process works: During the period of time between Jan. 1, 2007 and Dec. 31, 2011, you take your worst quarter (in gross sales) that occurred after the spill and subtract it from your best quarter during that period before the spill. For those living south of Hattiesburg, if the figure is five-percent or more, the settlement pays those losses. For those businesses between Hattiesburg and Jackson, the qualifying threshold is 10 percent. For all points north of Jackson, the threshold is 15 percent. 


Simply put, the settlement makes the worst quarter equal to the best quarter for every business in the state. Some small businesses will get millions of dollars. 


Luckey said there is no discussion, debate or negotiation. Once the numbers are verified, the settlement check is cut in the amount of the claim, no questions asked. It should take only three or four months to get the check once the claim is filed. He said about seven out of every 10 claims are being honored. 


The Federal government demanded that BP set aside billions of dollars to settle claims as a result of the oil spill. So as far as BP is concerned, it's money they've got to cough up anyway. Who cares if the people who get it don't have a legitimate claim to it, right? 


It's free money. 


So, yes, the lawyer had a compelling story to tell. 


He just picked the wrong audience -- the Columbus Rotary Club. 


The Rotary Club opens its meeting each week with a prayer, and references to good Christian values are not uncommon. By and large, the Rotarians are sincere in their Christian values. They will tell you they live their lives and run their businesses by those principles. 


Many, perhaps most, are staunchly conservative, which means they are fervent in their belief that a man should work for what he gets. They would not be ashamed to state that there are a lot of people out there who expect something for nothing, people who would take what they haven't earned, people who consider what comes their way simply as "free money." 


But I don't see much distinction between what Luckey was proposing and the actions of those "47-percenters'' who Mitt Romney famously referred to during an infamous fund-raising event. 


It's no more ethical to make a claim for BP damages that don't exist than it is to bilk a federal program out of extra money. 


I don't know if any of the Rotarians reached this conclusion or not. One or two of them seemed to grow quite enthusiastic over the prospects of making a claim. They looked at Luckey much like a hungry dog looks through the window of a butcher's shop. 


Maybe it's just a rare, honest glimpse into the human condition. 


Still, I think most of the Rotarians -- or anyone else, for that matter -- when they weigh their hearts in the scales of conscience, will realize that what Luckey said was not entirely true, that there is a cost associated with this enterprise. And that is a great cost. It is the cost of integrity. 


And if they are inclined to file a claim and get a check, I naturally assume they will give all of it to a worthy charity.  


Because it may be free money. 


But it's not their money. 


Among men and women of principle, that matters most of all.

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]