Lawmakers Consider Revisiting Exxon Valdez Cleanup Funds
Twenty-five years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, one state lawmaker is accusing ExxonMobil of not living up to its promise of restoring Prince William Sound in the disaster’s wake -- a claim the company contests.
A 2010 study commissioned by the state shows herring and some species of birds are among those animals that have not recovered from the 1989 spill.
ExxonMobil paid billions to make the state whole again after the crisis, and the energy giant says it's gone above and beyond the terms reached in its settlement -- but some say that is not enough.
Life along the sound still hasn’t returned to its former routine a quarter century after the March 24, 1989 spill – for neither residents nor animals.
"It bothers me if there are impacts that are caused to our oceans, to our ecosystems, our communities, that haven't been paid in full," said Michael Levine, the chief counsel for environmental group Oceana.
According to Levine, years of studies prove the area still hasn't recovered from the spill. Oceana, an international ocean conservation group, has been gathering data from scientists who worked on the aftermath of the spill.
“One of the important species that have not recovered is the herring in Prince William Sound, and those herring are the base of the food chain,” Levine said. “They are really important to the health and function of the ecosystem in Prince William Sound.”
In Juneau, lawmakers are asking ExxonMobil to pay up again. Two years after the spill, the energy giant paid nearly $1 billion in civil and criminal damages, and agreed to cough up more money if environmental damage related to the spill was discovered years later.
Sen. Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage) says ExxonMobil is reneging on that promise, made in a so-called “reopener clause” of the settlement. She filed a non-binding resolution urging the federal government to take the company to court.
“We're not going to waive our rights under that,” Gardner said. “We're going to require that they participate fully, and have high standards because we know there will always be accidents.”
Reached by email Tuesday, ExxonMobil spokesperson Kim Fox said local governments had until 2006 to make a valid claim under the terms of the settlement and failed to do so.
"There is confirmation of what was anticipated in 1991: isolated pockets of oil residue remain, but are so effectively sheltered they pose no credible threat to wildlife,” Exxon officials wrote. “This conclusion was supported by the independent consulting firm hired by the governments' trustees in 2006, which found that any remaining oil had limited ecological significance."
At Oceana, Levine says much of the damage is unseen. He worries what it will do the next generation of animals in Prince William Sound and beyond.
The Senate Judiciary Committee heard Gardner's resolution for the first time Monday. If passed, it will move to the full Senate for a floor vote.
The statute of limitations in the case expires in June 2016.
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