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Judge makes ruling in Exxon Valdez case

Posted: February 16, 2012 - 1:13am

JUNEAU — A federal judge on Wednesday refused Exxon Mobil Corp.’s request that he declare government efforts to seek additional cleanup funds related to the Exxon Valdez oil spill a violation of a consent decree.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland, in a written order, said the federal and state governments haven’t formally presented any claims. He said the possibility that they might doesn’t create any hardships for Exxon.

The matter stems from the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which resulted in 11 million gallons of oil being spilled into Prince William Sound.

Lawsuits brought against Exxon by the governments led to a $900 million settlement and 1991 consent decree that resolved claims related to natural resource damages. But the decree included what’s known as a “reopener” clause that would allow the governments to seek additional work for restoration projects.

Attorneys for Exxon, in a court filing last year, said the consent decree released the company from further financial obligations related to clean-up work. They said the governments in 2006 demanded payment of $92 million, in line with the reopener clause, for “nothing more than a plan to resurrect the clean-up of the oil spill that was declared complete by the governments” years earlier.

Despite filing a claim with Exxon, the governments still must file with the court to enforce the claim, and they haven’t taken that step yet, said Seth Beausang, an assistant attorney general for the state.

He said studies are being conducted and others being considered, to determine the feasibility of doing additional restoration work in Prince William Sound.

Holland urged all parties to resolve the matter quickly themselves if possible.

But “at this juncture, it really is up to the Governments to decide what they want to do, and simply waiting out the Governments imposes no particular hardship on Exxon,” the judge wrote.

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