Exxon Still Trying to Get Out of Paying for Valdez Oil Spill Clean-Up


Photo: ARLIS via Flickr/CC BY

Yes, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill occurred well over two decades ago, but the fallout can still be felt today. As Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard notes, you can still find oil right on the beaches where the crude first made landfall in 1989. That's crazy. Fish and wildlife populations have not yet recovered, and some are still threatened. But despite the fact that the oil spill was one of the most widely-publicized environmental nightmares in U.S. history -- and a genuine PR crisis for Exxon -- the oil giant is still fighting its responsibility to help pay for the cleanup. The company, it is widely believed, is in the midst of a highly coordinated effort to redefine the very meaning of the word 'disgraceful'. From the report: "In its latest court filing, Exxon appears to be trying to shirk its obligation to pay for additional damages. In its filing to the US District Court in Alaska on September 30, the company argues that the agreement it reached with the government only covers "restoration" work--not additional "clean-up.""

But, you might ask, didn't Exxon already pay for the cleanup like 20 years ago? Not really. Sheppard explains:

In 1991, Exxon struck a deal with the government to pay just $900 million in damages over 10 years for cleanup costs. The deal allowed the government to reopen the case, if it could prove that there were remaining problems that had not been adequately addressed. That "reopener" clause only extended until September 2006. So when that date rolled around and there was still evidence of that habitat and species were directly impacted by the spill, the Department of Justice and the State of Alaska filed a claim asking Exxon for an additional $92 million payment.
In short, Exxon said no. They claim that the agreement only regarded restoration efforts, and that this was technically still cleanup, so they don't have to pay. They also said that since it is now past the stated date, it has ""ended Exxon's further obligations for 'clean-up' once and for all." In official documents, Exxon also added, "nyah-nyah!"

The darkly humorous element about the whole affair is that Exxon is explicitly arguing that it has so underfunded the 'cleanup' process that that job isn't even done yet. If the company had done a better job of 'cleanup', it would be willing to pay more for 'restoration' now. But, since it never finished the cleanup job, both further cleanup and restoration are out of the question. Sorry!

That's some twisted logic indeed. If you want to get even angrier, read the rest of Sheppard's piece and find out why the U.S. government probably isn't going to try very hard to make Exxon pay up, either. Instead, this fragile Alaskan ecosystem will likely continue a toxic coexistence with decades-old spilled oil for the foreseeable future.

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