Exxon Valdez Oil Lingering in Environment, Feds Say
ExxonMobil Seeks to Block Collection of $100 Million Restoration Fund
Washington, DC — More than twenty years after the Exxon Valdez spill, a top federal scientist says the “unexpected discovery of lingering oil” raises environmental questions requiring additional study and restoration, according to court filings posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Yet, Exxon (renamed ExxonMobil) is now asking a federal court to free the company from any further financial responsibility for the horrendous 1989 spill.
Twenty years ago this week, the company, the State of Alaska and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reached a $1 billion settlement which called for an added payment of up to $100 million for environmental injuries unknown at the time of the settlement. In August 2006, the U.S. and Alaska submitted a demand for ExxonMobil to pay $92 million to implement a restoration plan for this unanticipated eco-damage but the oil company has not paid this demand, and now says it will not.
In a September 9, 2011 affidavit, Kimberly Trust, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service liaison for the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee stated that “lingering oil had been degrading at a far slower rate than was anticipated at the time the Parties entered into the Consent Decree and had remained toxic and available to natural resources, such as sea otters and harlequin ducks which use these intertidal habitats.”
“The coastal ecosystem injured by the Exxon Valdez spill is still a long way from full recovery,” said Rick Steiner, a PEER Board member and retired University of Alaska professor who is participating in the current case. “The persistence of crude in the environment for decades after the Alaska spill has profound implications for restoring the Gulf of Mexico, which just suffered a spill nearly 20 times larger.”
Not a penny from this $92 million government “Reopener” has been collected, however. For the past two years, Steiner and PEER have pressed the governments to move forward but DOJ maintained that is awaiting the outcome of further studies – a position it repeated in court filings last month.
“The Reopener for Unknown Injury provision was intended to address unanticipated, long-term injuries, precisely as government-commissioned scientific studies have identified,” Steiner added. “But necessary restoration cannot take place if the funds remain in Exxon’s bank account.”
ExxonMobil, on the other hand, contends that it is finished paying for clean-up under terms of the settlement and any lingering oil is clean-up not restoration envisioned by the Reopener claim. The company also argues that the time for pursuing any Reopener claim has expired.
“We are concerned that the Justice Department may have dithered away $92 million in needed restoration funds for Alaskan habitat that has still not recovered from a massive insult,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who is also asking DOJ to make these further studies public and to disclose when the rest of the research will be completed. “We also want to make sure that the lessons from the Exxon Valdez settlement, both good and bad, are put to use as the even bigger mess in the Gulf is addressed.”