Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Oral Arguments Set for Nov. 15 In Exxon Valdez Reopener Case

Oral arguments are set for Nov. 15 in U.S. District Court in Anchorage in the latest multi-million dollar litigation of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster.

ExxonMobil is seeking to have dismissed efforts to make the oil giant pay an additional $92 million for additional cleanup of the oil spill in Prince William Sound.

ExxonMobil argues in its brief that a 1991 agreement and consent decree handed down by the court precludes the governments of the United States and the state of Alaska from demanding additional funds for cleanup pursuant to the court’s reopener for unknown injury. ExxonMobil attorneys said that because the consent decree released ExxonMobil from obligations to conduct further “cleanup” and that the parties explicitly limited the scope of the reopener litigation to “restoration projects,” that the court may enter an order that any attempt to base a reopener claim on a cleanup plan violates the consent decree.

Back in 1991, Exxon agreed to pay $900 million in damages over the next decade for cleanup costs. The deal allowed the government to reopen the case, in the event there remained issues not adequately addressed in the cleanup.

Then in 2006, the Justice Department and the state of Alaska filed a claim seeking to have Exxon pay an additional $92 million, given evidence that habitat and species were still impacted by the spill more than 22 years ago.

Exxon has declined to pay any additional monies. The Justice Department meanwhile has not pushed for payment, but Rick Steiner, a marine biologist who spent 14 years working in Prince William Sound, has been urging Exxon to pay up.

In documents filed on Oct. 11, Steiner urged the court to enforce the 2006 government demand for payment under the reopener provision. He said that governments must retain sovereignty over environmental offenses and be entitled to collect “even if improperly presented by government agents, any and all damages necessary to remediate environmental damages caused by offending activities as stipulated in an approved consent agreement.”

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