Alaska editorial: Exxon should pay now what it owes

Posted: Monday, July 21, 2008

"Unfortunate" is the kindest description we can muster for the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling slashing the damages Exxon must pay for the nation's largest oil spill. A $5 billion punitive-damages judgment to plaintiffs - a number arrived at nearly 20 years ago - was worth a lot more money when it was first calculated than it would be now.

As surely as $5 billion was a lot more money 20 years ago than it is today, one-tenth that amount is worth far less than it would have been worth when the verdict against Exxon first was delivered. But that's what the court has decreed.

So it is done now. Or it will be - when Exxon finally, two decades late and many dollars short, pays up.

Exxon, with its $40-billion-plus in profits last year, can well afford to pony up, although oftentimes such awards have more to do with the injuries inflicted than with the offender's ability, or willingness, to pay.

We join Gov. Sarah Palin, who noted that highest court in the land "gutted the jury's decision," and who urged that Exxon fulfill its obligation immediately.

To the company, we urge: Pay what's left of your lopsided portion of the tab. Some have died and others have lost their livelihoods; you are being ordered, finally, to pay an amount that equals a few days' profit. Attorney General Talis Colberg is writing a letter requesting prompt payment of the $507 million plus interest owed the 32,000 plaintiffs in the case.

However, in a prepared statement, the governor noted that Exxon might have the ability to delay payments. The state is asking that the company nevertheless pay now, which might get money to the plaintiffs sometime this fall.

At long last, Exxon, have you no shame? Write the check, go forth, and try to do much better from now on.

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