Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Environmental Damage Claim Against Exxon Close, But Not Yet Resolved

More than 23 years and counting since the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling 10.8 million gallons of oil into the pristine waters, the case is still in court over unsettled claims for environmental damage.

Conservation biologist Rick Steiner of Anchorage said Oct. 17 that Exxon Corp. still hasn't paid the federal government and state of Alaska $92 million the state claimed for remaining damage from that March 23, 1989 environmental disaster.

When the federal and state governments demanded those funds from Exxon in the late summer of 2006, Exxon said they were not going to pay, and the governments did not try to collect the funds to finance environmental damage harmful to marine mammals and other wildlife, Steiner said.

So in the spring of 2010, Steiner asked the US District Court to order Exxon to pay. Federal Judge H. Russel Holland held a hearing, at which Exxon, the governments and Steiner all presented testimony, and the governments said they needed more time to study the case, Steiner said. The court gave them another year, Exxon filed a motion for dismissal of the claim, and the court kept granting the governments more time to study the matter. At length, Holland said he wanted to see an update by Sept. 28, 2012, and on that date, the governments filed a seven page status report, noting that the governments “anticipate discussing with Exxon its interest in participating in those next steps and a possible resolution of the governments’ demand to Exxon under the reopener” of the case.

Steiner said that by his calculations, at 5 percent interest, Exxon owes about $120 million by now and ought to pay up and be done with it. He is concerned, he said, that the government, in private negotiations, may settle for much less.

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