House Democrats seek interest in Exxon case

Rep. Andrea Doll joins lawmakers in call for payment to claimants

Posted: Thursday, July 17, 2008

Juneau Rep. Andrea Doll is among legislators calling on Exxon Mobil Corp. to pay interest to Exxon Valdez claimants, after the company Tuesday claimed in court filings that it was not required to pay interest costs that could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Doll and the others called Exxon's position that it shouldn't have to pay interest "novel and arguably frivolous," and are asking the state to support the fishermen and others seeking the interest.

Joining Doll in the request were Reps. Les Gara and Bob Buch, both of Anchorage. All are Democrats. They asked Attorney General Talis Colberg to file an amicus, or friend of the court, brief backing the Exxon Valdez plaintiffs on the interest issue.

Thousands of claimants have been waiting for compensation since the 1989 spill.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently set punitive damages at $507.5 million after years of legal debate. Plaintiffs seek an additional $488 million in interest to cover the years since the original verdict.

The letter requesting support for the plaintiffs was also sent to Sen. John Cowdery, chairman of the Legislative Council, the body through which the Legislature acts in such matters. Cowdery was recently indicted on corruption charges in connection with his dealings with an oilfield services company.

Palin spokeswoman Sharon Leighow said the administration currently has no plans to file an amicus brief on their behalf at this time.

"We are working with the plaintiffs' counsel and providing them with any support they request," she said.

The tussle over interest charges comes while the Alaska Legislature is meeting to discuss a natural gas pipeline, with Exxon Mobil one of the companies weighing in on the pipeline issue.

It and other North Slope oil and gas producers have been reluctant to build the pipeline sought by Alaska.

Last week an Exxon Mobil Alaska executive was hit with questions about when the judgment would be paid while he was testifying about the gas pipeline last week.

"The Valdez oil spill was a tragic incident, it's something that our corporation deeply regrets," said Marty Massey, U.S. Joint Interest Manager for Exxon Mobil, under questioning from Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.

"We're as anxious as anyone for this to come to an end," he said.

Wielechowski couldn't get a direct pledge of prompt payment from Massey, however.

"I can tell you that we will abide by the Supreme Court order," Massey said.

"I'm glad to hear that," Wielechowski responded.

Later Gara tried again, asking whether Exxon would pay the judgment.

"The Supreme Court decision is final, when it is final we will pay," Massey said. "The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land, when they rule it is over."

Tuesday, Exxon Mobil went back to court, arguing that no interest should be awarded.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or e-mail

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