Exxon makes last payment

Environmentalists seek additional damages for Exxon Valdez spill

Posted: Friday, August 31, 2001

ANCHORAGE ExxonMobil will deposit $70 million into an Alaska Department of Revenue account this week, the last annual payment of its $900 million damage settlement with the state and federal governments from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

But several environmental organizations on Thursday called on the government to reopen the settlement agreement to seek another $100 million from the oil giant for what they say are unanticipated, lingering damages from the spill.

"It is our assertion that this is not their final payment," said Rick Steiner of the Coastal Coalition at a news conference in Anchorage.

The National Wildlife Federation, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, The Alaska Center for the Environment, the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and the Coastal Coalition are among the groups that signed a letter to President Bush and Gov. Tony Knowles on Thursday, asking them to seek the additional payment.

The Exxon Valdez hit a charted reef in Prince William Sound in March 1989 and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil. The spill fouled more than 1,000 miles of shoreline and killed tens of thousands of birds and marine mammals.

Exxon, the federal government and the state reached an agreement in 1991 calling for Exxon to pay $900 million in civil damages, $100 million in criminal restitution and a $25 million fine.

That agreement also included a reopener clause that allowed the governments to seek an additional $100 million for spill-related damages that could not have been known or anticipated at the time of the settlement.

The state and federal governments can file a claim between 2002 and 2006 if they decide to seek additional damages.

Assistant Attorney General Craig Tillery said the state has not decided if it will pursue a claim, but he said there still is plenty of time to make that decision.

"You don't just go out and make a claim such a long time ahead of when you need to," Tillery said. "If you're going to make that claim you need to be careful and get all the information that you can to support it."

Gina Belt, an attorney with the U.S. Justice Department in Anchorage, also said it was too early for the federal government to make a decision on a claim.

Exxon released a statement saying that any discussion of the reopener clause was premature.

"If and when a claim is made, the government will need to support it with appropriate data and we will evaluate the claim at that time," the company said in a news release.

The company also said the environment in Prince William Sound is "healthy, robust and thriving."

But the environmental groups say much of the wildlife affected by the spill has not yet recovered. They point to research done for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, which oversees restoration of Prince William Sound.

The council lists only two species bald eagles and river otters as having recovered from the spill.

Loons, three species of cormorants, harbor seals, killer whales and pigeon guillemots are not recovering from the spill, according to the council's research. Pink salmon, red salmon, herring, sea otters, black oystercatchers, murres and marbled murrelets are among the species listed as recovering.

"We still have oil on the beaches of Prince William Sound. It's still toxic, it's still relatively unweathered, and it's still causing toxic contamination in the food web," said Steiner of the Coastal Coalition.

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