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Senators urge Exxon to pay up for Valdez spill


June 27, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Two dozen U.S. senators, led by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Patty Murray, D-Wash., have sent a letter to the chief executive of Exxon Mobil urging the oil giant to negotiate or pay up on the $4.5 billion punitive damages judgment stemming from the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

About 3,000 plaintiffs have died waiting for their share of the judgment a federal court jury in Anchorage, Alaska, awarded them 12 years ago, the senators wrote.




"Unfortunately your corporation has chosen a legal strategy of delay and appeal," the senators wrote. "Your lawyers have filed hundreds of motions and over a dozen appeals, while the fishermen and impacted communities continue to suffer from the aftermath of the tragedy."

The 24 senators who signed include Democrats Maria Cantwell of Washington, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, Dianne Feinstein of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts. Among the Republican signers: Larry Craig of Idaho, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and both senators from Maine.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, did not sign.

Stevens has already expressed similar sentiments, most recently in a letter the Alaska delegation sent Exxon this spring, said his spokeswoman, Lindsay Hayes.

"His position hasn't changed," she said.

An Exxon spokesman said the company isn't stalling, just pursuing the case in court as allowed by law.

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker went aground in Alaska on Bligh Reef shortly after leaving port in Valdez. Eight of its cargo tanks ruptured, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil that fouled the coastline of Prince William Sound and beyond.

Thousands of fishermen, businesses and subsistence users sued. An Anchorage jury awarded them $5 billion in punitive damages in 1994. The judge reset the award at $4.5 billion.

Dave Gardner, Exxon's media relations adviser, said the company has already paid $3.5 billion in clean-up costs, compensation to spill victims and settlements.

"We believe that all damages have been paid. ... The ongoing case is about whether further punishment is warranted, not whether any plaintiff is entitled to money for losses that were incurred," he said in an e-mail from Exxon headquarters in Irving, Texas.

In the Alaska fishing communities affected by the spill, some plaintiffs are convinced they won't live to see the end of Exxon's appeal.

The Oiled Regions of Alaska Foundation formed several years ago, in part to educate plaintiffs about putting their money to wise use once the check from Exxon arrived. With no checks in the mail, the foundation has held a series of community meetings to keep plaintiffs up to date on the status of the case, said Angie Newby, a real estate broker who represents Homer on the foundation's steering committee.

"Some of them still have a lot of anger. You can just feel it in the room," she said. "This isn't just about money anymore. For many of them it's just reshaped their entire lives. ... It's pulled the rug out from under them."


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