Governments Drop Further Exxon Claims

Attorneys for the Justice Department and state of Alaska say they are dropping further rights to claim more money from Exxon for the March 24, 1989 disaster that spilled millions of gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The waters are prime habitat for millions of fish, sea mammals, and birds, as well as a major commercial fishing area.

At a hearing Oct. 15 before US District Court Judge H. Russel Holland, who has presided in this litigation since the multi-million dollar settlement in 1991, the attorneys said they had nothing to add to their written filings. Holland said that “based on what’s in your report, I’m satisfied that it was the right decision.”

But marine biologist Rick Steiner, of Anchorage, who consults on environmental issues, and has followed the case since the spill, called the decision “an unconscionable betrayal of public trust.”

“Above all, it just validates the public’s distrust of the oil industry, and government promises of responsible oil development in Alaska,” he said.

Steiner is asking the state and federal governments to consider retaining their option for a claim of millions of dollars more from Exxon under the re-opener clause, a provision in the 1991 settlement that allowed for additional claims in the event of environmental impacts not identified at the time of that settlement.

“The 1991 consent decree requires that the Environmental Protection Agency be consulted on all spill restoration decisions, and they clearly have not been consulted on any of this, including the decision to abandon the Exxon Reopener claim,” he said.

Steiner also said that the government status report entirely omitted a consideration of the resource services that remain injured due to residual oil in intertidal sediments, including commercial fishing, passive use, recreation and tourism, and subsistence and wilderness resources.

“None of these have fully recovered, and a primary reason for most of this is the presence of lingering oil in the ecosystem,” he said.