Did the Obama Justice Department restrict access to information in an effort to limit BP's damages in the wake of the Gulf oil spill? What will happen to Gulf Coast residents who become sick years from now as a result of exposure to toxins from the spill?
Those are some of the hard questions U.S. Senate candidate William G. "Bill" Barnes (D-AL) is asking, just one week from next Tuesday's midterm elections.
Barnes faces an uphill battle against GOP incumbent Richard Shelby and his fund-raising machine. But Barnes is in Washington now, asking the kinds of questions that seem to have gone unnoticed by Shelby and Alabama's other senator, Republican Jeff Sessions.
During his stay in D.C., Barnes has sought meetings with Attorney General Eric Holder, EPA Administrator Lisa Perez Jackson, and White House assistant Carol Browner, who focuses on energy and climate-change issues.
In letters to D.C. officials, Barnes says he has seen signs of responsiveness from some in the Obama administration and from special compensation master Kenneth Feinberg. But he also has concerns, especially about Alabama citizens who are likely to be feeling the health and economic impact of the oil spill for years to come. Writes Barnes:
Alabama residents, like others in the Gulf, are justifiably concerned that criminal and civil procedures will fairly compensate for damage and deter future misconduct.
Regarding civil cases:
* Have you investigated any complaints that Justice Department improperly helped restrict reporters, environmental groups or other members of the public from obtaining evidence regarding the scope of BP’s damages?
* What is the latest information on your monitoring of the work of compensation “czar” Kenneth Feinberg to ensure that his work has gone forward with due process and is otherwise fair under the law? Even after being impressed with recent progress under his leadership, I am particularly interested in your overview and assurances that those who may become ill perhaps years later by oil-created illnesses, as yet-unknown, be treated fairly.
Barnes conducted a briefing last week at the National Press Club, and here are highlights regarding environmental issues: