More than 24 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, a $92 million claim for the recovery plan for unanticipated harm to fish, wildlife and habitat remains unpaid, with the next federal court status hearing on the matter set for March of 2014.
At the latest court filing of June 28, both the US Justice Department and state of Alaska cited “unforeseen contracting issues, delays in “sample analysis” and stalled peer reviews as reasons why they haven’t begun implementing a multi-phase restoration project outlined back in 2006.
The issue prompted Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility to comment on July 15 that “this stalemate may foreshadow the official neglect to be expected after spills that will surely occur from drilling in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.”
“Amazingly, it’s been seven years since the governments demanded this final payment, but have yet to collect a dime,” said PEER board member Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska marine professor who tried to intervene in the case to break the logjam. “"There is still a significant amount of Exxon Valdez oil in beaches, it is still toxic, it is still affecting the marine ecosystem, and yet the government and Exxon remain bickering about what, if anything, to do about it - pretty inexcusable behavior,” he said.
The $1 billion 1991 settlement with Exxon – now ExxonMobil – called for additional payment of up to $100 million for environmental damages unknown at the time of the settlement over the March 24, 1989 disaster. In 2006, the federal and state governments jointly submitted a demand that ExxonMobil pay $92 million to fund recovery for the long term natural resources damages. Yet seven years later the governments are still waiting for long overdue scientific studies before collecting that $92 million, PEER said.
Meanwhile PEER earlier today took the nation’s federal pipeline safety agency to task for failing to conduct “a single surprise exercise for more than eight years to determine whether an operator can executive emergency response plans.”
Nor, said PEER, does the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration have a ready account of which emergency response plans it has approved, rejected or changed.
Federal guidelines call for up to 20 unannounced exercises annually to demonstrate an operator’s ability to respond to a worst case discharge spill event.