The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Rick Steiner (907) 360-4503; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Exxon Valdez Damages Remain Unsettled After 21 Years

Inability to Document Natural Resource Damages May Bedevil BP Spill Payments


More than 21 years after the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill, funds
set aside for long-term damages to natural resources have yet to be
collected, according to documents posted by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The U.S. Justice Department claims
it is still waiting for additional scientific studies before taking
Exxon to court to collect a final $92 million claim for harm to fish,
wildlife, habitat and subsistence resources.

In 1989, the tanker
Exxon Valdez spilled over 11 million gallons of crude oil on the Alaska
coast. The $1 billion 1991 settlement with Exxon (now ExxonMobil)
called for an added payment of up to $100 million for environmental
damages unknown at the time of the settlement. On August 31, 2006, the
U.S. and Alaska jointly submitted a demand for ExxonMobil to pay $92
million to finance a restoration plan for these unanticipated
environmental injuries. This unresolved government environmental claim
is separate from the business claims, which were resolved in 2008 by the
U.S. Supreme Court for $507 million.

That $92 million
government "Reopener" was never collected. In March 2009, PEER and Rick
Steiner, a now retired University of Alaska professor who has
intensively participated in conservation issues relating to the Exxon
Valdez spill, sent a letter to both the U.S. and Alaska Attorneys
General asking them to act immediately to collect the overdue claim.
Alaska never replied and has yet to disclose scores of documents
detailing its negotiations with ExxonMobil. Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice
Department in a letter dated August 21, 2009, indicated the federal
government was still waiting for additional scientific studies before
forcing the payment.

"The governments demanded this payment
for unanticipated long term environmental injuries from Exxon four years
ago, yet they still haven't collected a dime of it," stated Steiner,
now a PEER Board Member. "Such extraordinary government neglect for the
Alaska spill certainly doesn't bode well for government promises of
full and prompt restoration of the Gulf of Mexico."

This year's
BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico was nearly 20 times larger than the
Exxon Valdez spill. The well has not even been finally closed yet there
is substantial scientific disagreement and uncertainty over how much
oil remains in the Gulf environment and its long-term impacts. While BP
has created a $20 billion fund to pay for economic losses it has
rebuffed calls to create a $20 billion environmental restoration fund
for the Gulf.

"Are we also going to argue for a generation about
how much is owed from the BP spill?" asked PEER Executive Director Jeff
Ruch. "Our concern is that the political incentives for the Obama
administration to declare the Gulf restored before the presidential
reelection may drown out evidence of long term ecological damage which
merits compensation."

Read the U.S. Justice Department letter

Look at the $92 million claim and restoration plan

View the call for a $20 Billion Gulf Restoration fund

See the list of documents Alaska is still withholding

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.