MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
With the BP Gulf of Mexico ecological catastrophe perhaps 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill, it may take decades to proceed with comprehensive restoration efforts in the Gulf, if the Valdez spill is an example.
According to the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER):
In 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez spilled more than 11 million gallons of crude oil on the Alaska coast. The $1 billion 1991 settlement with Exxon (now ExxonMobil) called for an added payment of up to $100 million for environmental damages unknown at the time of the settlement. In 2006, the U.S. and Alaska jointly submitted a demand that ExxonMobil pay $92 million to fund recovery for these injuries.
That $92 million government “Reopener” claim has never been collected.
Is government bureaucracy holding up this relatively small change in Exxon's compensation for massive ecological and economic loss in Alaska? It's not entirely clear. Much of the disastrous damage will never be resolved, but nearly 25 years later why is almost $100 million dollars in restoration funds uncollected and unused?
It's a good question, considering how the Gulf of Mexico and those who depend upon it economically may not see anything approaching a viable recovery for years. PEER reflects on the inexplicable hold-up in Alaska:
“Amazingly, it’s been seven years since the governments demanded this final payment but have yet to collect a dime,” commented Rick Steiner, a PEER Board Member and retired University of Alaska marine professor who sought to intervene in the case to break the logjam, a move seconded even by former Alaska Governor Frank Murkowski. The court ultimately ruled that unless one of the parties placed the disputed claim before it, the court could not order payment. “This stalemate may foreshadow the official neglect we can expect after spills that will surely occur from drilling in the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.”
The coastal ecosystem injured by the Exxon Valdez spill is still a long way from full recovery. Lingering oil has been degrading at a far slower rate than anticipated and is still affecting natural resources at toxic levels. Several marine species, from herring to otters to orcas, have not yet recovered from the spill.
“This litigation is the environmental equivalent of Dickens’ Bleak House but it is the public’s estate that is withering away,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the 2010 Gulf BP blowout, which has yet to reach settlement of what will be multi-billion dollar civil damage payments, is more than 20 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. “This Reopener that won’t reopen should be an object lesson for how the civil damages recovery plan for the BP Gulf spill should be structured.”
When it comes to oil, the fossil fuel industry and the US government (Republican or Democrat) appear to regard oil spills as the price of doing business.
Out natural heritage and jobs that depend upon fresh water and a clean environment are inconsequential to the thirst for and massive profit of oil.
The only question is which massive spill will be next -- and when will we consider such catastrophes something more than the price we pay for a well-oiled lifestyle?