As the one-year anniversary of the 2010 Gulf oil spill approaches, countless victims of the disaster remain in limbo, waiting both for life to return to normal and to receive the compensation they were promised by BP. But the claims process set up for BP's $20 billion restitution fund has been widely criticized as slow and confusing, leading Gulf Coast Claims Facility Administrator Kenneth Feinberg (pictured) to defend his work in a conference call with reporters Monday. "The GCCF is working, it's working as intended," Feinberg said. "We're doing something right; the money is going out."
The GCCF has received roughly 857,000 claims from Gulf Coast residents and businesses in the past year, according to Feinberg, and has "processed" 72 percent of them since the initial emergency-relief period ended in November. ("Processed" means a payment or offer was made, a denial letter was sent, or a notice was sent requesting more documentation.) Some 300,000 claims have been approved, and a total of $3.8 billion has already been paid out, he added. But swaths of the Gulf Coast still bristle at Feinberg's reassurances, irked at the length of time and lack of clarity in the claims process. And while Feinberg reiterated that he won't dole out money carelessly — "I will not pay claims that lack proof. I won't do it," he said Monday — critics say the GCCF's pace isn't the only problem. As the New York Times reports, large numbers of would-be claimants, many of them Vietnamese-American, have tried to file a claim only to discover that some lawyer has already filed one in their name. Mississippi shipyard worker Tim Nguyen, for example, is now stuck in a back-and-forth between the GCCF and a law firm he didn't hire. "I never signed up with anybody," he tells the Times.
Feinberg acknowledged Monday that cases "where the lawyer claims to represent the claimant and the claimant denies it" have created "an obstacle to the efficiency and speed" of sending out checks. The claims facility will continue its work until August 2013, he said, adding that the total payouts "will depend on the nature, quality and volume of the claims." Meanwhile, some public officials along the Gulf Coast are pushing for BP to donate more to coastal restoration; Sen. David Vitter, R-La., for one, has introduced legislation to "frontload" payments through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. "The compelling concern is that the pace of the NRDA process could take years or even a decade or more," Vitter wrote. "This is unacceptable and my legislation is intended to get projects moving this year. BP should not shy away from either the responsibility or opportunity to negotiate in good faith and begin early restoration."
It's well-known that motor boats' propellers often maim or kill sea turtles, marine mammals and fish, but now a new animal can be added to the list: zooplankton. Few boaters give much thought to the miniscule crustaceans, but according to a new study in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, turbulence from boat motors kills significant numbers of zooplankton, potentially a real problem since they form the base of the aquatic food web.
"A number of studies have been performed that looked at the impacts of much smaller-scale turbulence on zooplankton," the Virginia Institute of Marine Science's Samantha Bickel tells the BBC. "But to my knowledge, no one had explored the idea that the intense turbulence generated by boats could have an adverse impact on zooplankton." Those previous studies had shown that even relatively minor turbulence can disrupt the feeding and growing cycles of plankton, so "it seemed intuitive that the sudden and intense turbulence created by a boat could harm or even kill" them, Bickel adds. She and her colleagues used a dye that turns live copepods red but leaves dead ones unchanged, helping them quickly assess how many were dying in areas with various amounts of boat traffic. They found that more heavily trafficked areas had larger numbers of dead plankton — for example, 34 percent were dead in one boat channel, while just 5 to 6 percent were dead in a marina and along a shoreline. More plankton carcasses were also found inside boat wakes (14 percent) than outside them (7 percent), with the ratio of dead plankton correlated to turbulence intensity.
"This suggests that turbulence generated by boats can be an important source of mortality among copepods," Bickel says. "This could have a number of important impacts within aquatic systems." Zooplankton are a key link in marine food webs, serving as a bridge between phytoplankton — tiny algae that create food via photosynthesis — and fish. If zooplankton populations fall too steeply, Bickel says, it could lead to giant, destructive algae blooms. Plus, all those dead copepods could also become food for bacteria, leading to even further ecological problems. "[T]he zooplankton biomass that would normally go toward feeding fish would be diverted to feed bacteria instead," Bickel says.
The leaders of Iran have never really liked dogs, and for years they've merely tolerated the country's dog ownership, which they consider lowly and un-Islamic. But as TIME reports, something seems to have pushed the Iranian government over the edge: Lawmakers in Tehran have proposed a bill that would outlaw keeping a pet dog, formally criminalizing a practice that has already faced periodic crackdowns in the past.
Police in Iran have a long history of arbitrarily confiscating people's dogs off the street, while state media have regaled Iranians with reports about diseases dogs can spread. But the new bill would take the country's informal fear of dogs to new heights, imposing fines of $100-$500 on dog owners while mandating that dogs are confiscated, with no clear answer about what would happen to them after that. "Considering the several thousand dogs [that are kept] in Tehran alone, the problem arises as to what is going to happen to these animals," Hooman Malekpour, a veterinarian in Tehran, recently told the BBC. In addition to warning of public health hazards that dogs supposedly present, the bill claims that dog ownership "also poses a cultural problem, a blind imitation of the vulgar culture of the West." And it may not even be limited to dogs — the bill's wording is vague enough to include cats, too, outlawing simply "the walking and keeping" of "impure and dangerous animals."
Of course, many Iranians own pets and are animal lovers, and the government's stance on dogs doesn't represent the country overall. Dog ownership has increased as Iran's urban middle class grew in the past 15 years, dispensing with outdated views of dogs as "najes," or unclean, TIME reports. Yet the government routinely sweeps stray dogs off the street, and now pet dogs could face the same fate if they're spotted outdoors. "Many in Tehran and other big cities find the killing of street dogs offensive and cruel," Iranian journalist Omid Memarian tells TIME. "It's like the Iranian people and officials live in two different worlds."
Swaths of the U.S. Southeast are still cleaning up from the country's worst tornado outbreak since 2008, but there's already another big storm system brewing, CNN reports. After last weekend's storms killed at least 45 people from Oklahoma to Virginia, including 22 in North Carolina alone, the threat of such an immediate encore is already creating anxiety. As AccuWeather warns, many of the same areas battered by the recent severe weather could be hit again.
The previous bout of storms began in the southern Plains, and this one is expected to kick off in Oklahoma as well. Heavy rain, strong winds, large hail and even a "few" tornadoes are expected to swipe across the country's midsection in the coming days, taking a path just slightly to the north of the recent storms. Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, western Tennessee, Indiana and Missouri are also included in National Weather Service warnings, with cities such as St. Louis, Indianapolis and Tulsa among those facing the greatest threats. The Midwest and parts of the South will likely see plenty of extreme storms, but they probably won't match the intensity of their predecessor — or produce as many tornadoes. As the AP reports, last weekend's tornado outbreak was the deadliest since February 2008, and spawned at least 100 tornadoes, possibly well more than 250.
Still, the coming storms aren't to be taken lightly, AccuWeather meteorologist Bill Deger writes. "A few gusty thunderstorms" are forecast to begin this afternoon from Missouri to Indiana, but the real trouble should begin later tonight, according to Deger. Strong thunderstorms will push from the central Plains into the Mississippi Valley, eventually gusting into the Ohio and Tennessee valleys overnight. They could generate tornadoes, and are expected to continue into the Mid-Atlantic states and central Appalachia by Wednesday, a region that was devastated by tornadoes just a few days ago.
The EPA bans PCBs, the California condor is saved from extinction, and more
Photo (Kenneth Feinberg in July 2010): Susan Walsh/AP
Photo (copepod): National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Photo (tornado damage in Wilson, N.C., on April 18): ZUMA Press